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Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year Paperback – June 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380793245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380793242
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.4 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #668,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Both of these books are devoted to the question of how the world came to agree on what day it was. Both are written for a general audience although Richards is an academic, and his book is the more scholarly. Richards also has a more global perspective, whereas Duncan focuses on the calendar in the West.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Entertaining, well written and informative.
L. Stockwell
`Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar' by astronomer Duncan Steel is much better though.
M. Mcfarland
The rest of us will get as much of them as we want, explained understandably.
Steve Harrison

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Rick Hunter on January 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Although ostensibly about a very narrow subject, David Ewing Duncan's Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year tells a much broader story. This fine book combines both intellectual and social history with science, with the ultimate issue being "how do we define and measure a year." This is not a simple question scientifically, and the input of religion makes it more difficult still. For example, the most holy of days for Christians is Easter, yet the formula used to determine Easter was based, in part, on the spring equinox. The calendar in use before Pope Gregory was not quite accurate, with the result that Easter in the sixteenth century was being celebrated, according to astronomers, ten days "off." Science and religion have never been particularly comfortable bedfellows (one only needs to recall Galileo), so any "reform" was not as simple as it might seem. Duncan tells an excellent story, and what he does best is place in full context the seemingly narrow question of how we set the year. Although seemingly about a narrow subject, this is a wide-ranging and insightful work of history, ably written.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By audrey TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
I agree with all of the criticisms by previous reviewers -- there are some easily caught errors (which speaks to poor editing as much as anything) and some goofy narrative speculation (not only the reindeer-clad moon-watching Cro-Magnon but also the weary Roman foot soldier). I started the book several times and, confronting these weaknesses, put it down again. But I always wound up going back because the subject is so interesting, and did eventually finish the book.
Having acknowledged the faults, though, I must say that I learned a lot reading this book, which is filled with interesting anecdotes as well as respectful nods to the many people who contributed to the development of our present-day calendar. The author does a good job of balancing specific information with the big picture, and one learns quite a bit about the history of Europe and the Catholic Church (and other areas and institutions to a lesser extent).
There is a good index.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tom Fly on January 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
I read this not long after it was first published, so I can only speak to my general recollections. If you're looking for a Michael Crichton or Stephen King page-turner, then click on... And, after reading some of the negative reviews here, I also remember that some of the computations in this book don't quite check out. I also remember that some "tangents" to the basic story seemed to be unduly drawn out, in an apparent effort to make a book of "respectable length" (about 250 pages, in my hardbound edition). On the other hand, I think most academically inclined people would enjoy this book.
In a world where time can be measured to an accuracy of "one second in 1,400,000 years" (tycho.usno.navy.mil/cesium.html), and the rotation of the earth is no longer used as the basis for its measurement (it's not sufficiently constant), and anyone with an Internet connection can easily synchronize his PC to within .2 seconds of the correct time, it is very easy to take this whole subject very much for granted. However, if asked how long it takes the earth to make one orbit of the sun, most people would answer "one year"... and they would be wrong; it takes about 1 year and 20 minutes for the earth to orbit the sun.
There are answers to many questions (that most people probably never ask themselves) in this book. If "decem" is Latin for "ten" (thus the words decimal, decade, etc.), then why is December the 12th month of the year? There are also surprises for even the generally well educated: the Gregorian calendar "of 1582" wasn't accepted in England and America until 1752.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Taylor on December 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I have to agree with oestens and would like "reader from Seattle" to explain further (see below) on how the chart at the beginning of the book can have 2000 AD as 1997 AD (I have the paperback copy - maybe hardcover has it different). The chart reads "The Year 2000 will be:" and considering that Duncun published the book in 1998 AD and used the future tense, it is clear that he meant the year 2000 AD by the current Gregorian calendar. The full sentence reads "The year 2000 will be 1997 according to Christ's actual birth circa 4 BC." That implies that we must shift the calendar BACK 3 or 4 years and renumber 4 BC as 1 AD. Then counting 2003 years from the renumbered 1 AD and we have the year 2003 AD, NOT 1997 AD. Furthermore, the rest of the dates make sense using this logic; only the Christian Era calculation does not (example: Egyptian calendar founded 4236 BC - 4236 plus 2000 equals 6236). Perhaps Duncan meant to say "1997 AD was the actual year 2000 according to Christ's actual birth circa 4 BC."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jessy on January 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is a must read for anyone who enjoys quarky history books. Not only is it an excellent source for learning all about the calendar, but it follows the maintenence of the calendar all through the dark ages and it sheds a lot of light on the dark ages. The reasons for why are calendar is what it is today is facinating history and Duncan presents it in a way that captures the reader.
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