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A Short History of Time by Leofranc…
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A Short History of Time (original 2005; edition 2007)

by Leofranc Holford-Stevens (Author)

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435841,686 (3.16)9
Why do we measure time in the way that we do? Why is a week seven days long? At what point did minutes and seconds come into being? Why are some calendars lunar and some solar?The organisation of time into hours, days, months and years seems immutable and universal, but is actually far more artificial than most people realise. The French Revolution resulted in a restructuring of the French calendar, and the Soviet Union experimented with five and then six-day weeks.Leofranc Holford-Strevens explores these questions using a range of fascinating examples from Ancient Rome and Julius Caesar's imposition of the Leap Year, to the 1920s' project for a fixed Easter.… (more)
Member:AlanaAssimina
Title:A Short History of Time
Authors:Leofranc Holford-Stevens (Author)
Info:The Folio Society (2007), Edition: First Edition
Collections:Untitled collection
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Tags:Classics

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The History of Time: A Very Short Introduction by Leofranc Holford-Strevens (2005)

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The organization of time into hours, days, months, and years seems immutable and universal, but is actually far more artificial than most people realize. The French Revolution resulted in a restructuring of the French calendar, and the Soviet Union experimented with five- and six-day weeks. Leofranc Holford-Strevens explores the history of the measurement of time using a range of fascinating examples, from Ancient Rome and Julius Caesar's imposition of the Leap Year to the 1920s' project for a fixed Easter.
  Ipcress_File | Oct 6, 2020 |
I started reading this book thinking this was a historical exploration of the philosophical conceptions of time. Maybe I’m not the only one to fall for this, for, as the author himself acknowledges in the introduction, the title may be a bit of a misnomer. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised by the the content of this work. For this is a history of the ways people kept track of time. In this sense, yes, this is a history of time, but time in a weaker sense.

So what is this book actually about? This is an exploration of how the different calendars were divised, its lengths, its relations and justifications within a particular culture, and how some of these notions, ideas, calculations and, even, mistakes, are still influencing our own ways of keeping track of time.

So, what do I keep from this? Well, to be honest, just the loose impression that most peoples (if not all) in their need to keep track of time, end up being trapped within the cultural necessity of trying to make the universe conform to the calendar. I know, sounds weird. But we are still doing it. For we rise when the clock ticks, and not when the Sun rises. This, although not explicitly stated in the book, it’s something that permeates the whole message; at least when you start considering that all calendars are filled with incongruencies shaped by cultures offsetting the counting with the universal measure of Nature.

Maybe you’ll like to know why your days are called the way they are. Maybe you just like to know some random facts about calendars, Easter days, and why do we call it Summer. Maybe you’re just glad do know how cutely random these defining features of our civilization truly are. In any case, you’ll find something of interest worth of your time. ( )
  adsicuidade | Sep 8, 2018 |
Holford-Strevens' discussion is kept at an introductory level, the glossary is necessary. The study of time keeping, days, and calendars requires learning a little specialized vocabulary. And while Holford-Strevens does a good job explaining terms, once they are explained the terms are used.

The book is an introduction. This means that there are no large discussions over controverted issues, no detailed footnotes. But, the discussion and presentation is based on very sound scholarship. The brief discussion in the text does make reference to primary sources where it is beneficial. And Holford-Strevens includes an annotated list of works for further reading.

Seven chapters are followed by two appendixes, a list for further reading, a glossary, and an index.

The chapters follow on the main themes of time keeping:

The day
Months and years
Prehistory and history of the modern calendar
Easter
Weeks and seasons
Other calendars
Marking the year

The introductions to these topics are very helpful in demonstrating not only where certain concepts and structures came from, but also how they were discussed historically.

For example, subdividing the month into 7-day weeks was not a common idea in ancient times. The Romans, from whom our main system of months derive, actually used an 8-day market cycle. It is called nundial (nine-day).

The Romans (and to some extent other cultures too) used an inclusive count for days. Thus a "nine-day" was a Roman market "week" consisting of eight days, starting over again on the ninth day. In the Gospel of John when the disciples are gathered on the "eighth-day" that means a week later, the same day of the week as before. "The third day" is today, tomorrow, and the third.

All in all, the introduction is very helpful for western and near eastern calendars. Holford-Strevens also discusses Chinese, Japanese, and Mesoamerican calendars. While these latter calendars fall a bit outside my research interest, I would still say that this volume's introductions to those calenders were, perhaps, too brief to be helpful.

It is "very short"--only 142 pages in a 4.5x6.75 inch volume, just over 1/4" thick. There are 26 illustrations, mainly of ancient calendars. The format of the book and the size of the page makes many of these illustrations hard to see. For example, the first illustration "Detail of Egyptian diagonal calendar" is photo reduced to fit 5 3/4 x 1 1/2 inch space. This makes any features noted of the calendar in the text very difficult to see because of the small size. Illustration 12, a photo of a sixth century mosaic of Dionysius Exiguus's tables for calculating Easter is printed inverted.

Leofranc Holford-Strevens is also co-editor/author of The Oxford Book of Days (2000), and The Oxford Companion to the Year (1999). ( )
  septuagesima | Jan 7, 2015 |
What a pity that such an interesting theme is treated in such a drab and boring way! 1.5 stars, but only because I'm interested in the subject. I hope to come across a much better book about this topic in the future. ( )
2 vote Akubra | Apr 3, 2013 |
The measurement of the year, and the enumeration of months and days, is complicated business, with a history of multiple competing traditions, controversy, and confusion. There is difference in the length of the hour, depending on the season, so that a sundial does not always measure the same hour, and precession of the equinoxes, and slight changes in the lunar month, as well as a quarter day more than 365 for the earth to complete rotation around the sun, to complicate the astronomical time keepers. The week is arbitrary, 7 days derived from Hebrew traditions, competing with an eight day market cycle inherited from Rome. There are lunar calendars, and lunisolar calendars, that attempt to match lunar months to solar time. There is sidereal time, measured against the constellations. The dates of Easter and Passover are greatly controversial, requiring complex calculations. These complications, and many tidbits of history are engagingly presented in this short book. ( )
1 vote neurodrew | Mar 1, 2009 |
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[preface]
The title of this book may suggest a survey of problems in philosophy or physics: whether time can have a beginning or an end; whether the laws of space-time cease altogether to apply in black holes; whether it would ever be possible to reverse the flow and change the past ― a favourite fantasy with people who imagine that they alone would have the privilege of doing so, and forget that in the new improved past their parents might never have met.
The most fundamental unit of time-measurement is in most societies the period of the earth's rotation on its axis, which is normally known as the day.
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Why do we measure time in the way that we do? Why is a week seven days long? At what point did minutes and seconds come into being? Why are some calendars lunar and some solar?The organisation of time into hours, days, months and years seems immutable and universal, but is actually far more artificial than most people realise. The French Revolution resulted in a restructuring of the French calendar, and the Soviet Union experimented with five and then six-day weeks.Leofranc Holford-Strevens explores these questions using a range of fascinating examples from Ancient Rome and Julius Caesar's imposition of the Leap Year, to the 1920s' project for a fixed Easter.

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