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Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time Unknown Binding – February 22, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why should the hours in a day be open to government interference? Who are politicians to dictate how clocks are set? In Preau's engrossing and highly readable history of Daylight Saving Time (DST), these questions are posed many times over by people dead-set against altering "God's time," forgetting (or unaware) that Standard Time was largely created by the railroad companies. Early-to-rise Benjamin Franklin wrote of the good that could come of tinkering with the clock hours, but Englishman William Willett was the first to work out the logistics in his pamphlet, The Waste of Daylight, and lobby for DST in 1907. He died before anything came of his proposal, and it took the economic shock of WWI to get it adopted-and then only temporarily in most countries. Prerau writes knowledgeably about DST, following its trail with a single-minded focus that allows him to untangle the "clock chaos" it sometimes caused in places like Minneapolis and St. Paul, which in 1965 clashed over when to spring forward. Poems and editorial cartoons scattered throughout demonstrate just how fierce and widespread the debate raged. Prerau has compiled what seems to be every intriguing tidbit related to DST (and some that are less interesting, like the full texts of DST ordinances). Uncontroversial as it may seem to some, for others it was a matter of life and death, and Prerau handles the various arguments with admirable skill and evenhandedness, making this an excellent read for anyone curious about this peculiar slice of history.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In this rewarding excursion into the curious history of daylight saving time (DST), Prerau discovers that it has been at the crossroads of politics and war. He recounts that DST first occurred to an Englishman who on his morning horse rides observed that Londoners were still abed, a lethargy he found reprehensible. The affronted William Willett championed DST in a 1907 pamphlet entitled "The Waste of Daylight," setting the original argument that touched off decades of debates on DST in British and American legislatures. These civic battles ballast Prerau's narrative. However, real battles are what enshrined DST in daily life. Patriotic appeals in World Wars I and II swelled the pro-DST forces (primarily urbanites and railroad companies), while in peacetime, anti-DST voices (primarily rural dwellers) reasserted themselves, such that observance of DST in America became a patchwork of local preferences. Noting the congressional acts (as recently as 1986) that eventually sorted out America's timekeeping confusion, Prerau's account is well researched and wryly presented. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Unknown Binding: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (February 22, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560257962
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560257967
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,410,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce R. Gilson on May 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Just days apart, two books came out on the same subject. This book competes with Michael Downing's "Spring Forward" and, in my opinion, wins the competition.

For one thing, the background history of timekeeping goes back further in Prerau's book than in Downing's. And it is placed in a more logical place in the book. Additionally, this book is, in my opinion, better written, reading in a way that holds my interest better. Prerau also uses maps and illustrations intelligently.

In addition, Downing seems not to have thoroughly proofread his book, occasionally writing "east" instead of "west" and "latitude" instead of "longitude."

For all these reasons, although both books pretty much cover the same material, unless you have a great desire to have both books in your library, this one is the one to buy.
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I grew up hearing as an explanation for Daylight Saving Time that it was "good for the farmers." It turns out that this is a widespread misconception, and it also turns out not to be true: farmers have in fact historically opposed the adoption or expansion of DST because of the inconveniences it imposes on them. Another childhood illusion put to bed, if decades late.

Since 1986 the U.S. has observed DST from the first Sunday of April to the last Sunday of October. Beginning in 2007, DST is to be expanded by three weeks (in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005). It will now begin on the second Sunday of March and extend until the first Sunday of November. Given this change I figured it was high time for me to find out what Daylight Saving Time is all about.

I review below David Prerau's Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time. It's the first of two DST-related books that have been weighing down my TBR shelves. Both books were published in 2005--the idea of exploring DST apparently being very much in the air in the first years of the new millennium.

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Benjamin Franklin proposed in 1784, when he was serving as the American minister to France, that Parisians conserve energy--in the form of candle wax and tallow--by changing their habits, rising with the sun rather than sleeping in with their shutters closed against the daylight. The idea never caught on, and it is at any rate impractical as it would depend on the alteration of individual habits on a large scale for it to have any chance of working for a community. Over a hundred years later, in 1905, a certain William Willett devised an alternative plan for increasing the number of usable daylight hours during England's summer months.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very well-written book that thoroughly details the history behind timekeeping, as society evolved from each city observing local "sun time" (high noon = sun at highest point in the sky) and the increasing need for synchronization brought on by the industrial revolution and advancing technology such as railroads and telegraphs. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin and William Willett, various arguments are advanced for the idea of moving the clock forward in the summertime in order to cause society to be more active during morning daylight, in order to reduce the need for artificial lighting. This practice is haphazardly observed by various countries until WWI and WWII illustrate the practical utility of the idea. In the US, daylight saving time (DST) is haphazardly implemented, until legislation eventually standardizes the observance in the 1960's.

The reason that I give a "grudging" five stars is that I still personally disagree with DST. Biological circadian rythms do not easily go backward, and I believe that one day research will describe the deleterious effects (sleepy drivers, morning heart attacks, reduced productivity in schools and workplaces, etc.) that can be directly traced to disrupted biological rythms that take weeks or months to recover from the artificially disrupted schedule. These effects, when fully identified, may more than fully counteract any marginal beneficial economic advantage from energy conservation. If DST is such a good idea let's move the time zones one hour forward and then leave them there rather than shift back and forth twice a year. This book does not even address the issue of circadiam rhythyms, except for a one-sentence mention on the second to last page. A full evaluation of DST must include this important factor, as anyone who drags out of bed for weeks after "spring forward" day, sipping cup after cup of coffee just to awaken, can personally attest.
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Format: Hardcover
I never realized that Daylight Saving Time (DST) had such a controversial and turbulent history. I believe that the author has done an excellent job in detailing DST's evolution, often in excruciating detail, right up to the current, yet still fluctuating, situation. The writing is clear and engaging making the book very easy to read. The book also contains many caricatures that were published over the years clearly expressing people's views on this most contentious issue. I highly recommended this book to anyone, especially those interested in recent history. The fact that this subject has recently made the news makes this book very timely.
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Format: Hardcover
The first thing I learned from Prerau’s excellent little book is that it is not mere pedantry to call it Daylight “Saving” Time instead of Daylight “Savings” Time, as I have my whole life. The idea is that by switching the clocks we are saving daylight that would otherwise be wasted while we sleep. But I suppose the language patterns of “savings bank” and “savings account” are too strong to be resisted.

The second thing I learned is that virtually all the arguments advanced even today against DST were already put forward when the idea was first seriously proposed in the early 20th century. I must say that the author is so fair that after reading this book, which is pro DST, I have more respect for the contra arguments. The dairy farmers do have a legitimate beef, if you will pardon the expression.

Robert Frost, before he had any success as a poet, tried to make a living as a farmer in New England. By all accounts, he was not very good at it. Late at night, after the rest of the family had gone to bed, he would stay up late, composing poems on the kitchen table, going out to observe the starry sky when he got stuck. As a result, he got up late in the morning. Sometimes he didn’t milk the cows until noon. He’s supposed to have said, “The cows got used to it quicker than the neighbors did.”

And that’s been pretty much my attitude to those who oppose DSL and almost invariably mention “the cows.” It may not accord with ancient tradition, and it may not make sense at all places and all times (countries near the equator have little need for it), but for the most part, it is eminently practical. As Winston Churchill said long ago, DSL is not a change “from natural time to artificial time.
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