A Brief History of Timekeeping: The Science of Marking Time, from Stonehenge to Atomic Clocks (Paperback)
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It’s all a matter of time—literally.
From the movements of the spheres to the slipperiness of relativity, the story of science unfolds through the fascinating history of humanity’s efforts to keep time.
Our modern lives are ruled by clocks and watches, smartphone apps and calendar programs. While our gadgets may be new, however, the drive to measure and master time is anything but—and in A Brief History of Timekeeping, Chad Orzel traces the path from Stonehenge to your smartphone.
Predating written language and marching on through human history, the desire for ever-better timekeeping has spurred technological innovation and sparked theories that radically reshaped our understanding of the universe and our place in it.
Orzel, a physicist and the bestselling author of Breakfast with Einstein and How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog continues his tradition of demystifying thorny scientific concepts by using the clocks and calendars central to our everyday activities as a jumping-off point to explore the science underlying the ways we keep track of our time. Ancient solstice markers (which still work perfectly 5,000 years later) depend on the basic astrophysics of our solar system; mechanical clocks owe their development to Newtonian physics; and the ultra-precise atomic timekeeping that enables GPS hinges on the predictable oddities of quantum mechanics.
Along the way, Orzel visits the delicate negotiations involved in Gregorian calendar reform, the intricate and entirely unique system employed by the Maya, and how the problem of synchronizing clocks at different locations ultimately required us to abandon the idea of time as an absolute and universal quantity. Sharp and engaging, A Brief History of Timekeeping is a story not just about the science of sundials, sandglasses, and mechanical clocks, but also the politics of calendars and time zones, the philosophy of measurement, and the nature of space and time itself.
For those interested in science, technology, or history, or anyone who’s ever wondered about the instruments that divide our days into moments: the time you spend reading this book may fly, and it is certain to be well spent.
About the Author
Chad Orzel is a physicist, professor, and blogger, and the author of three previous books How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog, and Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Union College in Schenectady, NY, where he has been on the faculty since 2001. Orzel has been blogging about physics and academia for Forbes and Scienceblogs.com since 2002. He is earned a BA in physics from Williams College and a PhD in chemical physics from the University of Maryland, College Park. At that time, he completed his thesis research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology with Bill Phillips (Nobel Laureate in 1997), and he was a post-doc at Yale before starting at Union, studying the quantum physics of ultra-cold atoms.