The 5,000-year struggle to align the heavens with the clock and what happened to the missing ten days. Measuring the daily and yearly cycle of the cosmos has never been entirely straightforward.The year 2000 is alternatively the year 2544 (Buddhist), 6236 (Ancient Egyptian), 5761 (Jewish) or simply the year of the Dragon (Chinese). The story of the creation of the Western calendar is a story of emperors and popes, mathematicians and monks, and the growth of scientific calculation to the point where, bizarrely, our measurement of time by atomic pulses is now more acurate than Time itself: the Earth is an elderly lady and slightly eccentric - she loses half a second a century. Days have been invented (Julius Caesar needed an extra 80 days in 46BC), lost (Pope Gregory XIII ditched ten days in 1582) and moved (because Julius Caesar had thirty-one in his month, Augustus determined that he should have the same, so he pinched one from February). The Calendar links politics and religion, astronomy and mathematics, Cleopatra and Stephen Hawking. And it is published as millions of computer users wonder what will happen when, after 31 December 1999, their dates run out...
In his latest book, David Ewing Duncan traces the development of our modern-day calendar and describes how people's experiences are shaped by their conception of time. Duncan postulates that all this concern with time started when a Cro-Magnon man decided to mark off the days of the lunar cycle on an eagle bone. After recounting the slow evolution of the calendar through the centuries, the author laments how time oriented our society has become: "There are moments when I am hopelessly late, or cannot possibly fit anything else into my schedule, when I sigh and wish that Cro-Magnon man 13,000 years ago in the Dordogne Valley had set aside his eagle bone and gone to bed."
The book is organized in chronological order and focuses mainly on the centuries leading up to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar (our modern calendar) by the Catholic Church in 1582. Along the way, Duncan describes the ancient calendars of many cultures all over the globe, from India to Egypt to the Mayan empire. During the Middle Ages, Christian churches discouraged scientific inquiry on the theory that it was wrong to question the nature of God's creation. This severely hampered the refinement of the calendar and the advancement of many academic pursuits. By the 16th century, Europe's calendars were 11 days out of sync with the solar year, which meant Easter was being celebrated on the wrong day. An infusion of knowledge from India and the Middle East helped Europeans get back on track. Duncan profiles the many mathematicians, philosophers, and monks who made organizing time their life's work. This book honors the efforts of those scholars and examines the way politics and religion influenced societal perceptions of time through the ages. --Jill Marquis