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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Henry Winstanley and the Eddystone Lighthouse. Adam Hart-Davis & Emily Troscianko. Sutton Publishing Ltd (2002)


This is a fascinating and highly entertaining book about the first man to build a lighthouse out at sea. Henry Winstanley was a serial entrepreneur who decided to build a lighthouse on the Eddystone Reef, 14 miles outside of Plymouth harbour and a notorious and extremely dangerous location, after two of his ships were wrecked on the reef. In the face of the common wisdom that the task was both impossible and ridiculous, Winstanley spent three years rowing out to a rock in the sea and after considerable struggle built the lighthouse in 1698. In 1703 in the midst of the worst storm ever recorded in Britain, Henry Winstanley and his lighthouse were swept away, leaving nothing except some iron bars jutting from the rock to mark the presence of the lighthouse.
Adam Hart-Davis and Emily Troscianko tell the extraordinary story of Henry Winstanley, a truly remarkable self-made man. Winstanley took advantage of the increased social mobility and the increasing opportunities for men of determination and ingenuity that came with the restoration of Charles II. He was not an original thinker, he could and did see commercial possibilities in the scientific curiosity and desire for novelty that existed in the population. He built a house of wonders and charged admission. It was a very popular attraction.
The amazing strength of will and purpose he showed in building the lighthouse is revealed by the authors in detail. Adam Hart-Davis & Emily Troscianko have written a very readable and enjoyable book that puts Henry Winstanley in his historical context and provides a nicely detailed portrait of the man. This is wonderful small scale history that restores a astonishing man back to the public attention he so craved and ultimately deserves.

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