- Hardcover: 422 pages
- Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 4, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0471298271
- ISBN-13: 978-0471298274
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,541,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar 1st Edition
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"A calendar is a tool," the historian of science E.J. Bickerman once observed, "which cannot be justified by either logic or astronomy."
Duncan Steel, an English space scientist, extends that argument in Marking Time, a broad-ranging history of the Western calendar--a chronological system that is logical after a fashion, but strangely flawed all the same. Steel begins his account by considering George Washington's dual birthday, which he celebrated as falling on February 11, 1731, but Americans celebrated as February 22, 1732. Both, Steel shows, are correct, the discrepancy owing to a later calendrical reform that parts of the world have yet to catch up to (so that Russia's October Revolution, by non-Russian standards, occurred in November). Steel examines the long history of attempts to give the calendar a basis in astronomical fact, shows how the advent of the railroad brought with it the need for a system of standardized mean time, examines the likeliest dates for the birth and death of Jesus, and plucks countless fascinating oddments from the historical record. He doesn't shy away from advancing controversial ideas, one being that the meridian time of Washington, D.C. may be a more useful world standard than that of Greenwich, England--and not merely for political reasons. Neither is he afraid to use sometimes difficult mathematics to prove his points, giving his book a depth that many other popular studies of the calendar lack.
With the dawning millennium, time is much on our minds. This is a book to satisfy idle curiosity, settle dinner-table arguments, and simply enjoy. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Australian astronomer Steel (Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets) appears to have packed three disparate books into this single volume: a general history of the development of the calendar system, a more advanced version larded with astronomical information for the science buff or professional, and a reassessment of why England settled the mid-Atlantic coast of North America. According to Steel, Elizabeth I's colonization activities were part of her maneuvering against Pope Gregory XIII. Well aware of the Gregorian calendar's flaws, English scientists thought that if they developed a superior calendar, it would help effect a rapprochement with European nations fence-sitting in the quarrel between London and Rome. Possession of territory on the 77th meridian, in the vicinity of what is now Washington, D.C., was crucial, because English calendar reformers considered it to be "God's longitude." Steel's account of this grand, somewhat daft scheme makes an intriguing study in its own right, yet it gets lost amid a tangle of unrelated facts. He advances other interesting theories with abundant background information to back them up: that Jesus was born in April 5 B.C.E. and that there was no room at the inn because it was Passover, not because of an empire-wide census; that the Star of Bethlehem was a comet; and that some major celestial event occurred around 3000 to 4000 B.C.E. because so many of the world's calendar systems began around that time. Steel seems to have never met an interesting fact he didn't like to repeat, and this unfortunate habit bogs down an otherwise excellent study of calendar systems. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Steel's style may be a bit too chatty for some and too full of anecdotes about his youth in England and his experiences in the US and Austrialia. But then the author is a seriously good astronomer and this topic involves some pretty lateral concepts. He keeps you on board by making it fun and there's a detailed appendix at the back where all the relevant astronomical details are introduced in an easy style .... just in case you aren't an astronomer.
Marking Time's main aim is to explain why the Julian calendar was replaced. The modern calendar designed under Pope Gregory was built to reflect the length of time it takes the earth to pass between successive vernal equinoxes in March. Since the vernal year is almost constant, Pope Gregory's calendar is pretty accurate in tracking the time span between vernal equinoxes. The Julian version was a first approximation and therefore suffers from great inaccuracy over the centuries.
There were calendar proposals made by others in the middle ages that were even more accurate. Why were they rejected? Steel tells you why.
Steel also has an interesting religious-political theory for why the British finally adopted the calendar for it's empire in the mid-eighteenth century. It's all to do with the 77th meridian and Protestant England's fight against the Catholic church. I'd never read this stuff before - or his theory that universal time might be better measured from the US east coast - and was gripped. The freshness of his style is what made this book so memorable.
Marking Time's other aim is explain why you can't build a calendar for all the ages. It simply isn't possible. The earth's orbit around the sun is slowing down. So what is accurate today clearly won't be in the future. The lunar orbit isn't constant either so a lunar based calendar won't solve your problem. In any case, a day is only 24 hours long on four occasions in a year and the year itself can be defined in more than one way depending on whether you're looking at the sun or the stars.
After reading this book you'll realise there are a lot of very clever people in the world and also a lot of very silly laymen writing books on subjects they clearly don't understand. Duncan Steel isn't one of the silly people. You'll learn a lot from Marking Time that will fundamentally change the way you look at the world ........ and your watch.
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On page 18 the author reports, “It has been common knowledge for at least four centuries that the...Read more