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Time's Pendulum: From Sundials to Atomic Clocks, the Fascinating History of Timekeeping and How Our Discoveries Changed the World Paperback – March 25, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0156006491 ISBN-10: 0156006499 Edition: 1st Harvest ed

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace/Harvest Book; 1st Harvest ed edition (March 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156006499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156006491
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #608,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Likely you've heard that the mechanical clock is one of humanity's most significant inventions, comparable to the printing press, or electricity, or the automobile. But first-time author Jo Ellen Barnett admits that most of us, if we're honest, don't quite see why. Our perception of time, and our artificial division of it into little, repeatable pieces, is so ingrained in us that we forget it's an invention.

Barnett, who admits to having been fascinated by time all her life, seems the perfect person to clear up this conceptual blind spot. Drawing from many disciplines, she's conducted a sweeping survey of our relationship with time, from our earliest attempts to measure and understand it to our more recent breakthroughs with carbon dating and atomic clocks. Time's Pendulum never skimps on the science, with its detailed explanations and unapologetic technical discussions. But what makes the book so very likable (and readable) is Barnett's passion for meditating on time's cultural and even spiritual mysteries. If you're already intrigued by time, Time's Pendulum makes for a satisfying, meaty read, rich in insights and historical anecdotes; if you aren't already intrigued, you will be. --Paul Hughes

Review

“With Time's Pendulum, Barnett has shown us that there is a mystery and a great story to be found in the very time that flows past us and which rules our lives. There is no need for wild speculation. Time's Pendulum is history. In both senses of an ambiguous phrase, it is the history of our time."-New Scientist
“The story of time and its machines is long, but indisputably interesting. [Barnett's book ]. . . is entertaining and worth a few hours' reading time."-The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By bsimmons@sss.austin.tx.us on May 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is really two books--the first is a chronological history of time measurement devices, and the second is a history of humankind's perception of the age of humanity, the earth, and the universe. The first book is fascinating and well written. Writing for a general readership, Barnett explores the development of clockmaking and how the existence of ever more accurate clocks has irrevocably changed everyday life for us all. Her detailed explanation of the verge-and-foliot escapement was especially fascinating, as was her discussion of "the equation of time" and how it gives rise to the Mean in Greenwich Mean Time. Overall, the first half of her book is a wonderful introduction to an underappreciated portion of humanity's history. The second half of Barnett's book, however, is a rehash of material that Isaac Asimov explored fully in his nonfiction writings in the 1960s and 1970s. It may hold the interest of readers unfamiliar with Asimov, but for me it was a real disappointment, especially after such a compelling introduction to the history of clocks and clockmaking.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Bruce R. Gilson on March 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
Jo Ellen Barnett has written two books here, hidden between one set of covers. The first part goes over the history of how we have measured (and, truly, how we have defined) the time of day, starting with the "temporary hours" of a sundial (longer in summer, shorter in winter, and not even counted during the night), and transitioning to equal (but still based on the sun) hours (local apparent time), then to local mean time, to standard (time-zone) time, and ending up with the current Coordinated Universal Time, based on atomic phenomena. The story is absorbing and well written, and would be an enjoyable book all by itself.
Then she has a second part, concerned with the way we have determined the age of the earth. This could be said to start with the speculations of the Babylonians and Greeks, but really took off in earnest with medievals' attempts to build everything on a Biblical basis, reading into the Biblical account whatever they needed to build their chronology. When the geologists tried to account for their own observations, however, it was clear that the few thousand years the Bible literalists derived for the age of the earth was far too small, but physicists like Lord Kelvin (while arriving at a longer time than the Bible provided) still reached an age of the earth too brief to mesh with the geological evidence. Only with the discovery of radioasctivity and the refinement of the techniques of deriving chronological data from radioactivity measurements could the physicists and geologists be reconciled.
Both parts make it clear that ultimately time has become defined in terms of atomic phenomena (though different parts of the atom) and only through our measurement of these can accuracy be attained (whether in the case of the time of day or the time the earth has taken to evolve since its origin).
Unlike some other two-part books I have reviewed, this one puts them both together successfully. It is a very interesting book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. J. Kwashnak VINE VOICE on October 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
How many times a day do we unconsciously look at our watches, or the clock on the stove or the VCR (provided it's not permanently blinking 12:00)? Yet for many years, the capture of time to a clock was at best around the right hour of the day. Bernett takes us through the refinement of clock technology and clock making, and how this more exact time changed our lives, some would argue with the idea of a change for the better. She takes us on a simple and entertaining sweep of time from sundials to measuring the beats of an atom in order to tell what time it really is. Along the way there are arguments about the prime meridian and time zones as we are forced to go from telling time by the sun above each of us, to entire time zones on a single time, irregardless of where the sun exactly is. At least the trains could run on time.
Then Barnett pulls back and looks at the greatest clock around - the planet Earth itself. The question of how old the Earth is was a question that kept pushing the answer back and back further in time. Of course the Earth was only 6,000 years old, according to biblical interpreters. That is until the strata and fossils began to be understood, and then half life of radioactive elements could fix time ever more exactly. Now that we are able to "read" a good part of the clock that is the Earth, our placement of ourselves in time has also settled. So now we have a concept of where we are in time, and how to find it. At least until the earth slows some more due to friction in the tides. An interesting book that doesn't delve too deep and pulls you along on an interesting, everyday subject.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Graf on June 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
Time's Pendulum is a book not only about time and how time is measured, but also about our perception of time -- from the moment we as a species started worrying about it right up to today. Barnett does not only discuss clocks and how clocks work but the importance of time in daily life. Also excellent is her discussion of 'deep time' -- thinking about time on astronomical scales. I was also pleased by the more subtle connections. For example, the influence of the railroads on not only synchronizing watches over extending longitutes (i.e., time zones), but also their contribution to geologic time through uncovering the fossiliferous rocks during their construction.
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