From Publishers Weekly
For millennia humans relied on mythical or biblical accounts to conjure up a birth date for our planet. Astronomer Edmund Halley used the amount of salt in the oceans as his calendar. The great Newton ventured at writing a chronology that took most of the stories of Greek kings and heroes at face value. But as French geophysicist Richet tells readers, people didn't get serious about ascertaining the age of the Earth until the Enlightenment, when researchers tried to figure the amount of heat lost by the Earth to reckon backward to its molten youth. But a firm date—4.5 billion years—couldn't be established until the discovery of radioactive elements to date everything from textiles to stones. Richet writes in a meandering European style as he draws in figures from other fields (who would have guessed that Voltaire was Newton's principal advocate on the Continent?) to fill out his story. His writing occasionally plods along, and attempts at humor sometimes fall flat, although these may be just hazards of translation. Geology and natural science buffs will discover a rich, baroquely embellished birthday cake to dig into and enjoy. 12 half-tones, 27 line drawings.
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"Geology and natural science buffs will discover a rich, baroquely embellished birthday cake to dig into and enjoy."
"Not only does A Natural History of Time shed light on key advances in the history of science, from the ancient Greeks to the X-ray, it reminds us of the real heroism and nobility of the scientific enterprise. Today, science and technology have advanced to such a point that we tend to think mainly about their dangers—nuclear weapons, global warming, cloning. Yet our lives are supported by an immense edifice of scientific ingenuity, which we seldom understand or even think about. Mr. Richet reminds us that each acre of the continent of modern science was won back from an ocean of ignorance, by the hard work and intellectual courage of individuals."
(Adam Kirsch New York Sun
"Richet's real interest isn't time. It is age. Like many of his characters, he is down with a 'fever of chronology.' He is fascinated by every speculation in the entire history of Western thought that bears upon the question of the Earth's antiquity. The wonderful thing is that he succeeds in changing what might have been dry recitation into an almost Dickensian world of characters in conflict and in love."
(William Bryant Logan Globe and Mail
"This is one of those books that provides a refreshing shift in the way we look at things we take for granted, something all good storytelling does."
(Robert Birnbaum Book Digest
"If you want to know the real story behind the deciphering of the age of our planet, A Natural History of Time is the definitive account."
(Lynne M. Clos Fossil News
"A satisfying and easy read as well as an approach to the telling of a fascinating story that I have not encountered in any other book. . . . A book that even readers with only a modest understanding of science will find easy to read, yet which is rich enough in its narrative to satisfy even the most knowledgeable specialist."
(G. Brent Dalrymple Reports of the National Center for Science Education
"The story of how the age of the earth was determined is a marvellous concatenation of red herrings and presuppositions from which the truth eventually emerges. . . . I cannot imagine a better attempt at such a broad sweep through science and history. . . . Richet's natural history is—dare I say it?—timely."
(Richard A. Fortey TLS
"Precisely because the current well-grounded chronology seems so natural to most scientifically literate people, Richet's authoritative review of Earth's history is particularly welcome."
(Laurence A. Marschall Natural History
"A rich, wide-ranging, and authoritative history, well-spiced anecdote . . . and welcome flashes of humor."
(David Toomey The Historian
"I can strongly recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of science."
(Stephen G. Brush Journal for the History of Astronomy
"A Natural History of Time is the outcome of a remarkable effort. The reader is provided with historical background and with a tremendous wealth of information on a topic that raised cultural and religious problems throughout the centuries."
(Ivano Del Prete Nuncius