Book details

Finding North

How Navigation Makes Us Human

Author: George Michelsen Foy

Finding North

Finding North


About This Book

Navigation is the key human skill. It's something we do everywhere, whether feeling our way through a bedroom in the dark, or charting a ship's course. But how does navigation affect our brains,...

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Navigation is the key human skill. It's something we do everywhere, whether feeling our way through a bedroom in the dark, or charting a ship's course. But how does navigation affect our brains, our memory, ourselves? Blending scientific research and memoir, and written in beautiful prose, Finding North starts with a quest by the author to understand this most basic of human skills---and why it's in mortal peril.

In 1844, Foy's great-great grandfather, captain of a Norwegian cargo ship, perished at sea after getting lost in a snowstorm. Foy decides to unravel the mystery surrounding Halvor Michelsen's death---and the roots of his own obsession with navigation---by re-creating his ancestor's trip using only period instruments.

Beforehand, he meets a colorful cast of characters to learn whether men really have better directional skills than women, how cells, eels, and spaceships navigate; and how tragedy results from GPS glitches. He interviews a cabby who has memorized every street in London, sails on a Haitian cargo sloop, and visits the site of a secret navigational cult in Greece.

At the heart of Foy's story is this fact: navigation and the brain's memory centers are inextricably linked. As Foy unravels the secret behind Halvor's death, he also discovers why forsaking our navigation skills in favor of GPS may lead not only to Alzheimers and other diseases of memory, but to losing a key part of what makes us human.

Imprint Publisher

Flatiron Books



In The News

"GPS's cultural and psychological significance is at the core of George Michelsen Foy's Finding North...[and] the questions he worries at are important ones." —The Wall Street Journal

"A well-told tale, one that makes you grateful for what we have to guide us today as well as the power of the great outdoors." —Travel + Leisure

"Foy's strongest moments happen when he taps into the internal map, through his own personal, sensory-based history with a particular place...[a] great storyteller." —Outside

"Deep waters and deep thoughts fill these pages. With skillful prose and insight, Foy's account of the different aspects of navigation packs a powerful punch."Publishers Weekly

"[Foy’s] exploration of loss leads to a consideration of the process by which we make our way to a stage of renewal and growth…[a] fascinating look at past and present navigation.” —Booklist

"Armchair sailors will enjoy the vicarious thrills of Foy's brief journeys, and even those with no intentions of abandoning their smartphones will find something to ponder in his speculations about the challenges of gadget-free navigation."Kirkus Reviews

"A fascinating and sobering look at how partaking of the fruit of easy GPS navigation may be changing ourselves in ways we don't fully realize." —Ocean Navigator

"I highly recommend this excellent book." —Bruce Albertson, The Ensign magazine

Finding North takes readers on a journey around the world and deep into the nature of ?how humans find their way around. It's a voyage that is both personal and expansive, exploring how navigation works and its meaning in people's lives.” —Andrew Johnston, author of Time and Navigation and Earth from Space

“With engaging and personal prose, George Michelsen Foy explores the history, natural history, and—most critically—the vital importance for us today of navigation. In an age when we too often rely on technology to tell us where we are and where we're going, Foy's compelling story asks at what cost? What do we lose when we allow our skills of navigation—earned through centuries of finding our way in a wild and sometimes foreboding world—to fade? As we careen further into a century of global change, Foy shows how in a world of 'mystery and fear, and the near certainty of loss,' we will need these skills of navigation more than ever. —Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night

“George Foy frames his story of the history and practice of navigation with a hazardous personal sea voyage in a ship that might not be in good enough repair to make the trip. It's a wonderful device which he also uses to chart a difficult navigational path through his inner world—his seafaring ancestors; the tragic loss of his brother; his family; and his fears. And all of this is delivered in sensible, warm, and intelligent prose. Voyagers of all kinds will cherish this book?.” Paul Raeburn, author of The Game Theorist's Guide to Parenting and Do Fathers Matter?

“Anyone who’s ever charted a course – or dreamt of traveling to the stars – will enjoy Finding North.” —WindCheck Magazine

“Foy takes us on an adventure… Instead of forcing us into a trap of hate and obsession he leads us gently with good humor upon a passage lit by compassion. This is another lesson in navigation: To find our way we cannot succumb to monomania. Navigation incites and inspires us to take everything into account. And, as Foy demonstrates, this requires us to do the difficult thing whenever it resonates with the needle of our compass. At such times what is hard is not a chore. It is a vessel for joy.” —Horizons of Significance
“Informative [and] well written… I recommend [Finding North] to anybody having a bit of interest in navigation, amateurs or professionals; it takes you to places you didn’t expect and at the same time makes your recognize other subjects… Well done!” —Dutch Mariner

About the Creators

Finding North

Finding North