Navigation Through the Ages is a compendium of man’s quest to answer that most basic of journeying questions: “Where in the world am I?” Through six sections, Don traces advancements in techniques and tools from “Ancient Navigation” through the “Age of Discovery” to our contemporary “Electronics Age,” including separate sections on environmental factors affecting navigation and our current system of emergency signaling.

Due to the vast amount of improvements over the millennia, Don paints with a necessarily broad brush, allowing the reader the opportunity to research any particular interest further. Yet it’s amply illustrated with photographs and drawings.

Moreover, his treatment of navigation is universally appealing. Whether the reader gives it little thought beyond plotting GPS positions, is a student of romantic earlier navigation when charts carried the heart-stopping warning, “Here There Be Monsters,” or is simply put off by the “black magic” of celestial navigation and reams of sight tables, there is something for all.

The writing style is enjoyable, easy-to-digest, and practical. Content structure is well thought out and builds logically, step by step. As smoothly structured as an academic course, the book is natural enough to be enjoyed by a saloon’s swinging lamplight and shifting shadows. Offering a glimpse of our past, lesson and lore are cleverly intertwined.

Somehow an armload of dry technical and historical books has been reduced to a single volume. Skillfully, the author has kept the salient points, the human interest, and the ability to pique our curiosities. This voyaging-sized book is an excellent distillation, a catalyst for great discussions. That is the real magic held between its covers.

Try to fit this gem among your classics alongside Bowditch. It will earn its place with a rare combination of concise information and human interest, squarely answering one of passagemaking’s whispered concerns: “How do you know where we are?”

Navigation Through the Ages by Donald Launer (Sheridan House, 2009; 192 Pages)