Mike Flanagan,
It's About Time:
How Long History Took

(Andrews McMeel, 2004)

It took one-400th of a second for World War II photographer Joe Rosenthal to capture the iconic image of soldiers raising a flag at Iwo Jima. It took 13.7 to 14.5 billion years, give or take a decade, for the universe to form. (OK, that one's subject to change as new information comes in.) In between these two important events is a host of moments, large and small, that punctuate our impressions of history.

Mike Flanagan, in It's About Time, ignores the usual data of names, dates and places, and he discards his attachment to a linear chronology. Instead, he explores history from the perspective of elapsed time -- the duration of the events themselves from start to finish.

In these pages, you'll learn the length of the Gettysburg Address (2 minutes), the Battle of Waterloo (about 10 hours), John Dillinger's crime spree (1 year, 1 month and 12 days) and the construction of the Great Wall of China (2,267 years).

World War I lasted 4 years, 3 months and 15 days; to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo took 4 years, 5 months and 22 days. The American Revolution (8 years, 4 months and 16 days) ran only slightly longer than the time it took to build the Erie Canal (8 years, 3 months and 23 days).

The fatal flight of the Challenger lasted just 1 minute, 13.213 seconds. The Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage in 2 hours, 40 minutes. The attack on Pearl Harbor lasted 1 hour, 40 minutes. The Mayflower crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 65 days (just 6 days less than it took Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas). Charles Lindbergh made the first transatlantic flight in 33 hours, 30 minutes and 29.8 seconds.

You get the idea. It's an interesting little book, although for the life of me I can't imagine how it would be useful. After all, how often do you need to know which was longer, the Qing Dynasty or the Renaissance? (Answer: the Renaissance, by five years.)

Still history buffs will enjoy reading these nuggets from a different perspective. Others will enjoy it for the trivia. For less than $10, it's worth it just for the sake of some educational bathroom reading.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 27 November 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.