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Time Lord : Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time Hardcover – April 10, 2001

2.4 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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In the 1880s, a businessman traveling by train from New York to Boston needed, on arrival, to adjust his clock, moving it ahead by 12 minutes. The strange increment, writes Clark Blaise, was a matter of local interpretation, some enterprising Bostonian having determined that the rising sun touched the shore of Massachusetts a dozen minutes before warming Manhattan.

Such local interpretations of time made the job of establishing railroad schedules a matter of guesswork and hope, as the Canadian entrepreneur Sandford Fleming discovered when he missed a train in the west of Ireland in 1876. Frustrated, Fleming realized that a new system of universal time would need to be created if railroad travel were ever to realize its full potential. As Blaise writes, "the adoption of standard time for the world was as necessary for commercial advancement as the invention of the elevator was for modern urban development," and nations such as England that had a system of standard time in place owed much of their economic superiority to the predictability and reliability such a system put in place.

Fleming discovered that getting the world onto the same schedule required years of negotiating and browbeating, a nightmare that Blaise ably recounts. Fleming's efforts eventually paid off, and as Blaise writes, "Of all the inventions of the Industrial Age, standard time has endured, virtually unchanged, the longest." His entertaining account of how that came to be will be of appeal to readers who enjoyed Dava Sobel's Longitude, Henry Petroski's The Pencil, and other popular works in the history of technology. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Although he had consulted his guide to Irish railroad travel for the correct time of his train's departure, Sanford Fleming discovered that the train scheduled to depart at 5:35 p.m. would actually depart 12 hours later, at 5:35 a.m. Prior to 1884, conflicts like Fleming's were not unusual since time was not standardized as it is today. Determined to impose a rational order over something so elusive, Fleming, a Canadian engineer and surveyor, turned his attention to the creation of a standard global time based on a 24-hour clock, which he presented to an assemblage of leaders from around the world in 1884 at the Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C. After much scrutiny and debate, these leaders accepted Fleming's proposal, agreeing that the day would begin at midnight and establishing both the Prime Meridian at Greenwich and the International Dateline. Blaise's splendid account traces Fleming's starring role as the creator of a method of measuring time that rules people's lives even today. Blaise, author of 15 previous books of both fiction and nonfiction (Brief Parables of the Twentieth Century: New and Selected Stories, etc.), presents an important history of ideas and examines how this invisible yet remarkable technological achievement of the Victorian era, a period marked by a dogged confidence in its own capacity for progress, changed the world. Blaise writes with perfect pitch and graceful narrative; his most beautiful chapter explores the ways that writers like Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf manipulated time in their work even as they were constrained by it. (Apr. 20) Forecast: Every popular science book that comes down the pike these days is compared by its publisher to Dava Sobel's Longitude. But this beautiful little book may really follow in Sobel's footsteps. Blaise's six-city author tour (San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Iowa City, Seattle and Portland, Ore.) can only help to garner attention.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (April 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375401768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375401763
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,848,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Any time you ask "What time is it?" or look at your wristwatch or catch a plane, you are in dept to Sir Sandford Fleming. Who? He is just one of those invisible engineers no one has heard of, but his big idea affects all of us every day. Clark Blaise tells his story in _Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time_ (Pantheon Books).
Fleming was born in Scotland, and immigrated to Canada to do surveying. His jobs got bigger and bigger, and he traveled. When he missed a train in Ireland in 1876 because the schedule read p.m. when it should have read a.m., he wondered why, if there are twenty-four hours in the day do we not number them to twenty-four, but assume people can only count to twelve and have to do it twice? It is amazing that no one had had this particular inspiration before, but it was just a starter. For centuries, the world didn't really have a time standardization problem. There was not enough mobility for people to notice that one town's time was not synchronized with another's. Each town had it's own sundial, or an acting astronomer who would compute the meridian of the sun, calculate noon, and fire a gun or run up a flag when the time came. Solar noon moves about twelve miles westward every minute along the most populated parts of North America. Trains moved fast enough to show that meridians were different at every longitude. This not only meant that if you took the train from Boston to New York, you would have to reset your watch. It meant that train companies had to keep track of unimaginably complicated calculations to keep their trains running on time. Each train company kept its own time based on where it's headquarters were, so that in Buffalo, for instance, there were three official times because three railroads served the city; in St.
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Format: Hardcover
I too came into Blaise's Tim Lord with the outstanding book Longitude on my mind. While Blaise made some very good points to set the situation up, his failure to realy follow through is disappointing. The author has taken what was at heart a very good article and stretched it out into a thin book. Unfortunately, something had to suffer. It is obvious that the author is impressed by Sanford Fleming, but his fondness is for the whole man's accomplishments, not just Standard Time. So as a result we are treated to a lot of forshadowing of Fleming's role with the trans-pacific cable, but of course since it does not relate to the Standard Time issue, it is left hanging. Some of his observations about time were very interesting, and helped set the whole story in context very well. But then he would go off ruminating about the aesthetics of time, or try to set the whole time issue in the context of Victorian changes and Sherlock Holmes, which was just fluff. It didn't say much. It read like a school child trying to puff up his report so it matches the teacher's minimum requirements. Maybe I'm being harsh because I misread Blaise's thesis, but it seemed that he spent more time on time than on society and the effects of time standardization. The conference itself, setting time zones and the prime meridian is almost anticlimactic in it's place. I came away learning about why we have 24 time zones, why the Prime Meridian is in Greenwich, and that the railroads set their own time for a good part of the 1800's. Other than that, I took very little form this book, and very little about who Sanford Fleming was, outside of someone who missed a train and did something about it. This book could have been so much more.
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Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a straightforward and potentially superficial narrative on the history of standard time, Time Lord is unlikely to satisfy. But if you enjoy writers who challenge and delight with bold ideas and stirring insight, Time Lord by Clark Blaise will surely earn a favored spot on your bookshelf. Blaise is no ordinary writer and Time Lord is no ordinary history book. It may not be an easy read throughout, but it is definitely a compelling and rewarding one for any reader who revels in being roused to think and reflect. Rather than take the obvious and well-trodden paths of conventional biographies, Blaise has produced an enlightening treatise on time in a style that is at once literary and accessible. Yes, dates, places, people and events are offered. Sir Sandford Fleming's story is ably told. And wonderful anecdotes are related. "Notes on Time and Victorian Science" is a particularly fascinating chapter, especially in its description of what happened when the telegraph came to outlying Scottish villages in the early 1850s: "Country folk appeared with their messages tightly rolled, imagining they'd be able to jam them, literally, through the copper wires." (It gets even better!) But what Blaise does best is to transport the reader beyond the obvious, providing unexpected insights (personal and historic) on the creation of standard time and its impact on the world around us - including art, literature and, of course, the standardization of train schedules. On first read, "The Aesthetics of Time" would seem to be the most problematic chapter. Although beautifully written, it initially begs the question: does it really belong? On second reading, however, it emerges as the most daring and rewarding chapter, with the potential to forever influence the way you read a classic novel or view a great work of art. Time Lord is a remarkable tour of the Victorian Age and Clark Blaise is a skilled and illuminating guide. It is most definitely worth the journey.
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