Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon Garfield

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon GarfieldThis book is one man’s fixation on time through the ages, something that neither diminishes his interesting stories and bits of time-related histories, nor prevents the discovery of fascinating notes begging to be shared. I also appreciate how the impact on different classes of people is not neglected though this is lost in the thought of time as the great equalizer. It fails to recognize how the wealthy do buy extra time by outsourcing routine tasks to others, who still have to do their own tasks as well.

Whether it’s the planned community of Poundbury that turns back time or a 24-hour movie formed of clips such that any clock on screen is matched to the movie run time, if it has to do with our relationship to time, Timekeepers has a word or two about the topic. The precision placement of watch gears moves to the precise timing of an automobile assembly line and on to the obsession with time management. Nor is perception neglected as the author explores the extended minute that occurs in an accident or at the last stretch of a race.

Did you know every village or town in England used to have its own time zone? They set the time by their clock tower, regardless of the times set for their neighbors. Train schedules brought this tradition to a halt though acceptance came grudgingly and took a while. The trains ran on railway time rather than addressing the local time because too far a variance in the drivers’ watches could result in collisions.

Timekeepers is the perfect blend of interesting tidbits and an overarching theme. It has come up in numerous conversations since I started reading the book, and another reviewer recommended it for the same reason. Garfield’s intent is to demonstrate how time has become a key element, and sometimes the only element, by which we organize our lives and judge our worth, along with why this is problematic.

Ultimately, the book is a sometimes-chaotic exploration of the relationship between time and humanity. It contains many fascinating anecdotes, interviews, and portrayals of key people in the narrative, covering everything from watch mechanics to the imposition of false and stressful urgency with a touch on pretty much in between.

Timekeepers is the kind of book to prompt discussion and the urge to share some factoid the reader just learned. I don’t remember my expectation in starting the book beyond my own fascination with geared watches, but I’m pretty sure it had little in common with the reality, a fact I do not regret.

Whether you’re obsessed with time or merely governed by it, Timekeepers is likely to expand your understanding while offering a fair amount of entertainment along the way.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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