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A SMITHSONIAN BEST HISTORY BOOK OF 2021
‘An utterly dazzling book, the best piece of history I have read for a long time’ Jerry Brotton, author of A History of the World in Twelve Maps
‘Not merely an horologist’s delight, but an ingenious meditation on the nature and symbolism of time-keeping itself’ Richard Holmes
Since the dawn of civilisation, we have kept time. But time has always been against us.
From the city sundials of ancient Rome to the era of the smartwatch, clocks have been used throughout history to wield power, make money, govern citizens and keep control. Sometimes, also with clocks, we have fought back.
In About Time, time expert David Rooney tells the story of timekeeping, and how it continues to shape our modern world. In twelve chapters, demarcated like the hours of time, we meet the greatest inventions in horological history, from medieval water clocks to monumental sundials, and from coastal time signals to satellites in earth’s orbit. We discover how clocks have helped us navigate the world, build empires and even taken us to the brink of destruction.
Over the course of this global journey Rooney demonstrates how each of these clocks has shone a spotlight onto human civilisation, and shows us the very real effects clocks continue to have on everything from capitalism, to politics, to our very identity.
This is the story of time. And the story of time is the story of us.
'About Time is an utterly dazzling book, the best piece of history I have read for a long time. From sundials in ancient Rome to astronomical, water-driven, mechanical and atomic timepieces used throughout history and across cultures, Rooney has written the definitive book on these remarkable objects that give order to everyday life. It is a moving and beautifully written book that even takes us 5,000 years into the future with plutonium clocks ticking away beneath our feet. There will be many puns about this as a timely book; in fact, it is timeless' -- Jerry Brotton, author of A History of the World in Twelve Maps 'Not merely an horologist's delight, but an ingenious meditation on the nature and symbolism of time-keeping itself. From the medieval hourglass to the Doomsday Clock, from Jaipur to Jodrell Bank, from GMT to GPS, Rooney ticks off time in a highly entertaining series of historical tales and parables which also give pause for thought and sometimes alarming reflections. I will never hear the pips, or ask 'what's the time?' in quite the same way again. A striking success' -- Richard Holmes People say time is money, but David Rooney knows better. In this information-packed swoop through history and into the future, he exposes time's many identities along with the hidden agendas of clocks. Time is knowledge. Time is power. Time is faith. Time is destiny -- Dava Sobel, author of Longitude 'Enthralling and important, About Time takes us deep into the past and far into the future. With David Rooney as personable guide, we peer inside clocks from Kyoto to Cape Town, discovering what they meant to the diverse people who made them, used them, whose lives were ruled by them. . . . This is a gripping and revealing account of time, and humanity's changing relationship with it' -- Seb Falk, author of The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science 'David Rooney's passionate enthusiasm for everything clock-related leaps off every page. The vivid writing, engaging stories and autobiographical details combine to offer a rich and generous picture of the history of clocks, from China and Japan to Central Europe, the Middle East and outer space. In clear, pacey and evocative prose, Rooney's volume takes in ancient wonders and modern marvels, leaving us at once enlightened and moved' -- Ludmilla Jordanova, author of History in Practice The measurement of time is a convenience, a jailor, a tyrannical device. David Rooney's delightful and discursive work anatomises that tyranny. Page after page offers up instances of time's ubiquity and its mercurial power to get into the interstices of the everyday -- Jonathan Meades
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