9780786708703

Time: Its Origin, Its Enigma, Its History

Waugh, Alexander

ISBN 10: 0786708700 / 0-7867-0870-0
ISBN 13: 9780786708703
Publisher: Carroll & Graf
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Softcover
Editorial Reviews for this title:
Synopsis:
Fresh and accessible, entertaining and informative, this volume by Alexander Waugh recounts the flops and follies, triumphs and fears, crackpot theories and wondrous discoveries that have shaped the way humans have conceived of time since its dawn. His cast of characters ranging from the primitive homo erectus to modern time-explorers, from Zeno to Caesar to Pope Gregory, Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein, Waugh moves with urbanity and aplomb from the stuff of myth to the theory of relativity. Calendars, eons, minutes, eternity -- no element of time is overlooked in this delightful and enlightening tour of science and history. It reveals, for instance, that atomic clocks can now tell time with an accuracy that loses only one second every 316,000 years. On the other hand, it also discloses that in ancient Rome no one noticed for ninety-nine years that a public sundial was recording time consistently wrong.

Review:
In the beginning, Genesis tells us, was darkness and void, the terrible bleakness of infinity. Modern science has sought to understand that time before time, to describe the origins of the universe, and to model how the world will come to its explosive or whimpering end.

Alexander Waugh, a scion of the family of British satirists, brackets his history of time with the essentially unknowable matters of origin and denouement. But what captures his interest more is the time in between; namely, how different cultures have organized chronological reality and left their mark on our calendar today. Organizing his narrative by units of time that progress from seconds to ages, Waugh looks into the history of water clocks, the temporal theories of Sumerian astronomers and Greek philosophers, and the calendrical reforms of Roman emperors, medieval popes, French revolutionaries, and modern physicists. Waugh writes with a light touch and with much good humor, throwing in his view of whether the third millennium begins in 2000 or 2001 (he calls advocates of the latter position "carping fusspots") and musing over such heady matters as whether the space-time continuum disproves once and for all the theory of free will.

If you're at all interested in how our calendar came to be--or need instructions on how to build your own Stonehenge--then Time is just the book for you. --Gregory McNamee

Review

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