Simon Garfield,
Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time
(Canongate, 2018)

The best books (apart from "required reading") conform to the "3 E's" -- they should Engage, Entertain and Educate. If an author does not engage the reader the book will be abandoned. It entertains by sparking emotions like happiness, awe or sadness. It educates because even the most basic "pot-boiler" or "chic lit" yarn will teach the reader something.

Simon Garfield ticks all these boxes in Timekeepers as he explores how the world became obsessed with time.

Like his books on letters or typefaces, Garfield has a knack for taking a subject that most of us take for granted and expanding our understanding beyond our wildest dreams.

He ranges through calendars, timetables, the length of a CD, clocks, trains, photography and so much more. Along the way he dazzles the reader with facts and trivia, but do not think of this as a book of trivia. It is a well-written narrative that illuminates our understanding of so many essentials that go unnoticed in our lives.

Take the commuter. Did you realize that the commute was originally meant to reduce the time spent traveling? Tell that to the modern commuter.

Did you know that a TED talk is timed to last 18 minutes based on audience attention span?

In the silent movie days the camera and the projector were "hand cranked" and therefore at either end of the process speeding up or slowing down could enhance the action.

In the music industry the maximum duration of a "78" record influenced the way music was composed. Similarly the advent of the CD changed how people could listen to music -- remember the LP required turning over the disc. Incidentally, a CD is often called an album because in the past in order to listen to a long classical piece one had a collection of discs that were compiled into an album much like a photo album.

In the industrial revolution workers were not allowed have pocket watches in the factory as knowing the time could influence workflow. Some less honest owners were said to slow or stop the factory clock to increase the working day.

So, as Garfield shows us, time is not just the period used listening to a good CD or reading a book. It is all around us in many ways that we never even imagine.

book review by
Nicky Rossiter

3 February 2018

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