Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana. The Beatles learn to be brilliant in an hour and a half. An Englishman arrives back from Calcutta but refuses to adjust his watch. Beethoven has his symphonic wishes ignored. A US Senator begins a speech that will last for 25 hours. The horrors of war are frozen at the click of a camera. A woman designs a ten-hour clock and reinvents the calendar. Roger Bannister lives out the same four minutes over a lifetime. And a prince attempts to stop time in its tracks.
Timekeepers is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to measure it, control it, sell it, film it, perform it, immortalise it and make it meaningful. It has two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.
Timekeepers fulfils Simon Garfield’s intentions – to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts. It covers a wide variety of topics, all in one way or another about time – how it’s been recorded, the development of the calendar, the standardisation of time to aid with railway timetables, and aspects of time management, for example.
The chapters vary in length and some are more interesting than others. The one that interested me most was Movie Time, with an account of how the silent film, Safety Last! was made in 1923.
Harold Lloyd climbs the outside of a department store, obstacles falling on him as he does so, until he reaches the giant clock at the top, grabs hold of it, and dangles above the street below. Garfield recalls that for the first audiences time just froze, some went into hysterics and others fainted. Garfield’s focus is on the concept of time that the movies portrayed and goes on to explain how films were originally produced and shown when the timing depended on the cranking skills of the cameraman during filming and the projectionist during showing.
I was also interested in the chapter on performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a long and complex piece of music involving a large orchestra, solo singers and a chorus, where Garfield’s focus is on the tempo of the music and the differences made by different composers’ interpretations; and also in the chapter on Nic Ut’s photograph of children fleeing after a napalm bomb had been dropped on a village in Trảng Bàng, Vietnam. Garfield’s focus here is on the fraction of a second when the photograph was captured that brought the story home to its viewers.
Several other chapters also interested me but I wasn’t taken with those on the technicalities of time measurement, time management,or the production of clocks and watches, that Garfield describes in great detail. The book jumps about from topic to topic with, as far as I can make out, no chronological order. But it is full of facts, and going off the Further Reading and Acknowledgement section it is well researched. A book to dip into rather than read straight through.
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 4503 KB
- Print Length: 369 pages
- Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (29 Sept. 2016)
- Source: Canongate Books via NetGalley
- My Rating: 3 stars
Thanks to Canongate Books and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.