Stephen Kern conducts an innovative examination of the way in which new perceptions of time and space influenced ideas, philosophies, art forms, behavior, politics, and foreign relations. Kern is able to connect such seemingly unrelated topics as the sinking of the RMS Titanic and Friedrich Nietzche's evaluation of the present (an approach he calls "conceptual distance") to create a better understanding of the changing attitudes concerning time and space at the turn of the twentieth century. As Kern points out, the study of such an array of diverse cultural elements in terms of temporal and spatial experiences is essential because time and space are universal. All peoples experience time and space. Ultimately, he explains how the changing notions of time and space culminated in the diplomatic breakdown which led to the First World War.
This study is very intriguing, but there are weaknesses in his many conclusions. On the cinema, for example, certainly, it was exciting for viewers to see, for the first time, a man running backwards on the screen; however, it is difficult to take from such experiences the assertion that viewers changed their attitudes regarding time outside the theatre. Although some memebers of the audience indeed ducked at the sight of an oncoming locomotive on the screen, one must assume that viewers were able to distinguish between what they saw in the theatres and their experiences in real life. More convincing is Kern's argument that the cinema promoted a sense of temporal world unity (displaying a global sense of time through newsreels, etc.).
His main argument regarding the July crisis is also a little weak. Briefly, Kerns maintains that the preoccupation with speed (especially with the fast, impersonal telegraph) caused diplomacy to fail due to rapid, ill-considered responses to events (the assassiantion of Archduke Ferdinand) and the short time limit given to the Serbian government to respond to Austria's ultimatum. Certainly there were failures in diplomacy before the telegraph. Moreover, it could be argued that the telegraph had the potential of making accidental conflicts less likely than before because it allowed for immediate decisions to be made by governments at home rather than by military officers and soldiers abroad (i.e. the Cuban Missile Crisis, although this was--of course--outside of Kern's period of study). It is also a little hard to swallow that the wonderful technological, philosophical, cultural advances and changes of this period were steering the world to an irreversible path of destruction.
Despite these weaknesses, this work is a must have for students of this period because it covers such a broad range of topics and links them into an intriguing and ambitious theory. It really prompted me to think about this period (my favorite period of history) with a very broad brush.