This is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to measure it, control it, sell it, film it, immortalise it and make it meaningful.
Rather than an in-depth study of time or a chronological history, Timekeepers is more like a collection of essays inspired by timekeeping in one way or another.
I already knew a little about how the railways forced Britain to nationalise time and the chapter concerning them filled in some gaps for me. I wonder if the act stating that clocks on public buildings must be kept accurate is still in force? Elsewhere Simon explores how artists have portrayed time and used clocks in their work, branching off to tell us about some of the more unusual calendars people have tried to adopt in the past.
I particularly liked the chapters regarding time in film and photography. There’s Muybridge (best known for his photographs of a horse galloping) and Nick Ut (famous for a single photo from Vietnam) and it talks about how photography manages to stop time. The early cinematographers could change the speed of time by their hand-cranking of the films…and then the projectionists could change it again when they showed the film. I had never realised that early film reel was turned by hand, no wonder it sometimes looks out of time.
I didn’t know that the Doomsday Clock was actually the cover of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, introduced in 1947 to symbolise how close we are to nuclear disaster. The minute hand has moved back and forward ever since, showing how at peace the world is. You can check out the current time on their website if you’re intrigued…
We want more hours in the day but fear we’d probably only waste them. We work all hours so that we may eventually work less. We have invented quality time to distinguish it from other time.
Like many of these sort of books, there’s parts that appealed to me more than others. I skimmed over some of the bits describing Swiss watches, it was more about their appearance, materials and marketing than how they actually go about keeping time. The parts about modern time management just made me glad I wasn’t one of those kind of people (and some of the mantra’s seemed a bit too similar to puppy training to be taken seriously).
If you’re more interested in the perception of time, I’d recommend Time Warped instead, but if you’re a fan of Simon’s books or just like a bit of themed history this is well worth a read.
Timekeepers is published by Canongate and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 29th September 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.