on 27 April 2007
As a cynical Englishman, I was drawn to this book by what must be a unique aspect of its title. Can anyone, I wonder, cite any other artwork, be it a book, film, play, song or TV series whose title manages to include both the words "madness" and "saving"?
Michael Downing's Spring Forward - The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time tells the bizarre history of American time keeping. It concentrates on the period between 1918 and 1966 when neighbours in the same state - and sometimes city - couldn't be assumed to be keeping the same time. The confusion was ended with the passing of the Uniform Time Act. This standardised time within the same time zone with Daylight Saving remaining optional for individual states. There needed to be conditions in order for the mess to remain eliminated. Daylight Saving could only be introduced statewide within start and end dates fixed nationwide.
To a non-American who could never have imagined time becoming so localised and tattered, this is an eye-opener. It's an insight into the American balancing act between the will of the individual and the interests of the State. It was probably inevitable that it would take until 1966 for the USA to realise that there are some things that require totalitarianism.
As enjoyable as all this is, there's an agenda here whose presence is unfortunate. The title betrays the author's suspicion of Daylight Saving and he tends to regard it more as a problem than as a method of improving the match between daylight and waking hours. There's also some confusion on his part. On one page, he announces that the people of the world were seeking to "free themselves from the tyranny of fast time" only on the next to report that Wisconsin's voters had turned out in record numbers to endorse statewide Daylight Saving. This example epitomises the conflict between the author's position and the world's evolving approach to daylight alignment. Although he frequently describes Daylight Saving as a "falsification" he seems to have stumbled across the conclusion that it's the standard times as developed in the 19th century that have become false.
To sum up, this is a fascinating and cautionary tale, albeit one that needn't have become an edict for world time keeping. Recommended, even to those whose waking midday falls after 12 noon.