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The History of Time: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – Illustrated, October 27, 2005
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About the Author
Leofranc Holford-Strevens is the author of Aulus Gellius (1988), and co-author of The Oxford Companion to the Year.
- Item Weight : 5 ounces
- Paperback : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0192804995
- ISBN-13 : 978-0192804990
- Dimensions : 6.9 x 4.44 x 0.37 inches
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated edition (October 27, 2005)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #888,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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"Since the 24 hours of the natural day accommodated three planetary cycles with three hours, and therefore three planets, left over, the next day was ruled by the next planet but two: after Saturn the Sun, after the Sun the Moon, and so on (see box)." Re-reading the preceding paragraphs and referring to the box did not help clarify what the author intended to communicate.
At the very least the book could benefit by providing tables to visually illustrate the often complex concepts that the text seemed inadequate to explain. The different calculations to determine the date of Easter, for example, were close to unintelligible. I enjoyed many other books from Oxford University Press VSI series (30 so far). This was not one of them.
The author also jumps around from describing time measurements in one society to those in another. Rather than explaining the practices or concepts through which Romans or Babylonians or specific Chinese societies measured time, he jumps from one society to the next from paragraph to paragraph as if all past societies are comparable because they are old. He has text boxes entitled stuff like "Ancient number of hours" as if the entire diversity of past human societies can simply be described as one thing called 'ancient'.
Honestly, I only got a few pages in before recognizing that buying this book had been a waste of time.
However, solar days do not fit evenly into the solar year, nor do solar and lunar cycles match up neatly.
Therefore, human civilizations have struggled to invent mathematical models of time that reliably and consistently predict solar, lunar and seasonal activity for agricultural, astronomical and religious purposes.
This book surveys why calendars are always kludgy and how civilizations have fudged their way around the asynchrony of day/night, month and year. While it spends more time on the Judeo-Roman (lunar-solar) calendar, there's lots of information about Chinese, Islamic, Mayan and other major calendar systems.
The book is divided into 7 chapters.
The first deals with the day, its subdivisions and the standardization of time (and later time zones) necessitatied by railway timetables.
The second deals with months and years and the differences between lunar and solar calendars.
The third deals with the history of what we might call the Western calendar from the original Roman Republican calendar, through its reform by Julius Caesar to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar and the confusion caused by the reluctance of non-Catholics to accept the latter.
Easter has a chapter all of its own. This may seem strange to anyone not familiar to its huge significance in the history of the development of the Western calendar. In medieaval Europe the computus i.e. the calculation of the date of Easter was the most important calculation of the age. Before reading this chapter I knew the computus was complicated but I didn't appreciate just how complicated it was. Unfortunately the author (who is co-author of The Oxford Companion to the Year) doesn't conclude this chapter with a statement of the current rules for its calculation.
Chapter 5 deals with the week - and the unsuccessful efforts of revolutionaries and reformers to change it - and the seasons.
Chapter 6 deals with other calendars - the Jewish, the Muslim, the Gaulish, the Hundu, the Iranian, the Chinese and the Mayan. Given that this is a Very Short Introduction these can only be given brief summaries.
The final chapter covers how we mark the years, again a surprisingly difficult thing to do before the rise of the BC/AD system.
The book also has a bibliography, a couple of appendices and a very helpful glossary – given the highly technical style of the author.
Top reviews from other countries
It is nonetheless a quick, information-packed read, and the author gets across the magnitude and far reaching impact of the subject, which I had also naively thought to be a little less complicated.
I can't agree with another reviewer who, judging by his review, would have felt that one of G.J Whitrow's books would have been a better fit for the title. My reading of the title and the sales-blurb told me clearly what to expect, so I did not expect a tome on natural philosophy.
Of course, the book doesn not cover all the bases - it is after all "a very short introduction" so it could hardly be expected to.