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In the beginning, Genesis tells us, was darkness and void, the terrible bleakness of infinity. Modern science has sought to understand that time before time, to describe the origins of the universe, and to model how the world will come to its explosive or whimpering end.
Alexander Waugh, a scion of the family of British satirists, brackets his history of time with the essentially unknowable matters of origin and denouement. But what captures his interest more is the time in between; namely, how different cultures have organized chronological reality and left their mark on our calendar today. Organizing his narrative by units of time that progress from seconds to ages, Waugh looks into the history of water clocks, the temporal theories of Sumerian astronomers and Greek philosophers, and the calendrical reforms of Roman emperors, medieval popes, French revolutionaries, and modern physicists. Waugh writes with a light touch and with much good humor, throwing in his view of whether the third millennium begins in 2000 or 2001 (he calls advocates of the latter position "carping fusspots") and musing over such heady matters as whether the space-time continuum disproves once and for all the theory of free will.
If you're at all interested in how our calendar came to be--or need instructions on how to build your own Stonehenge--then Time is just the book for you. --Gregory McNamee [via]