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Bringing to life the instrument Victor Hugo called "the soul of the ship," Alan Gurney writes a rich history of the most important navigational device of all time: the magnetic compass born out of the need for a reliable means of navigating the difficult sea routes. So indispensable to 16th-century seamen was this device that anyone found tempering with it had his hand pinned to the mast with a dagger. Though organized in loosely chronological order (with detours for particular people and events), the story begins with a modern maritime misadventure describing how when all the yacht's high-tech navigational equipment failed, the crew had to rely on the stars. Covering a thousand years of ships, people, and events, Gurney's story remains unfalteringly exciting and engaging.