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Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time Hardcover – 24 Aug 2000

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; 1st, First Edition, First Printing edition (24 Aug. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 029784136X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297841364
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 14 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,043,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

"I didn't go to the moon, I went much further--for time is the longest distance between two places".

These lines, from Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, aptly describe the correlative at the heart of Clark Blaise's brilliantly quirky exploration of the universal acceptance of time zones, and their advocate, Sir Sandford Fleming. At first glance, it appears as though yet another frock-coated Victorian is being dragged by his whiskers to the biographical fore, but Blaise's is more than a mere salvage operation. Fleming, a Scot-Canadian surveyor and visionary, was to produce the first street maps of Toronto, engineer the trans-Canadian railway, and pioneer the trans-Pacific telegraph from London to Australia. A timetable misprint in Ireland, and subsequent missed connection, also provided the stimulus for the notion of a 24-hour clock. His claim to the creation of a single standard time (precipitated by the railroads, which made a currency of time) was endorsed in 1884 at a conference that also set Greenwich as the prime meridian, to France's dismay. Fleming favoured an anti-prime, but there were last laughs for both Fleming and the French: Fleming's anti-prime became the International Date Line, while today France controls UTC (Universal Co-ordinated Time).

The subject may be the ordering of Time, but Blaise's course is feistily non-linear. Adopting a gently ironical tone, he rejoices in the sidings as much as the mainlines, where he digresses into literary, philosophical or personal musings rather than follow Victorian didacticism. The central axis of "Time Lord", which could pass for the frisky cousin of Dava Sobel's Longitude, is a study of modernism, with its notion of fractured, recycled time. There is an amazing section of nearly 40 pages without mention of Fleming, analysing writers such as Hemingway and Faulkner, and the penultimate chapter is an outrageously enjoyable tract on the representative character of Sherlock Holmes. Blaise, himself a Canadian, somehow pulls the threads together, and vibrantly captures the times of a Victorian who touched his life, and whose achievement still regulates our contemporary identity as "temporal millionaires", infatuated with e-mails and mobile phones. --David Vincent

Book Description

The extraordinary story of Sir Sandford Fleming, the Victorian engineer, inventor, designer and writer who single-handedly persuaded the world to abandon local times and accept the system of time zones we use today.

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 24 Sept. 2007
Format: Hardcover
How could i possibly pass by such a title? As an avid fan of Doctor WHO, the original Time Lord, captured the eye firmly enough. But this is hardly a book of science fiction, although few novelists could adequately depict the subject. This book is the rendering of one of the 19th Century's most notable autodidacts. An almost penniless emigrant from rural Scotland, Sandford Fleming revolutionised the world's concept of time. In this fascinating, but rather disorganised, account, Blaise weaves numerous themes around Fleming's aim to make the world's time measurement coherent - and universal.

The prompt for Fleming's quest was a missed train in Ireland well into the era of the Industrial Revolution. Driven by steam, that age first used that power to raise water from coal mines. Applied to transportation of goods and people, one of steam's legacies was changing the nature of time. Factory workers now laboured to the clock, and travel speed increased dramatically. Rail travel quickly overtook animal prowess, but also revolutionised our lives. In North America, the spread of the land led to rail companies becoming the index of industry, and a force in politics and society. Each rail company kept time according to its head office. Its schedules granted it dominion over time, leading to such anomalies as the city of St Louis, which observed six different railroad times. This, in addition to the common practice of each town marking its own time by the sun's overhead passage.

Without question, Blaise' most eloquent chapter is "The Aesthetics of Time" in which he renders the influence of changing concepts on time on the arts, notably impressionism and literature.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 35 reviews
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Now You Know What Time It Is 11 May 2001
By R. Hardy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Any time you ask "What time is it?" or look at your wristwatch or catch a plane, you are in dept to Sir Sandford Fleming. Who? He is just one of those invisible engineers no one has heard of, but his big idea affects all of us every day. Clark Blaise tells his story in _Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time_ (Pantheon Books).
Fleming was born in Scotland, and immigrated to Canada to do surveying. His jobs got bigger and bigger, and he traveled. When he missed a train in Ireland in 1876 because the schedule read p.m. when it should have read a.m., he wondered why, if there are twenty-four hours in the day do we not number them to twenty-four, but assume people can only count to twelve and have to do it twice? It is amazing that no one had had this particular inspiration before, but it was just a starter. For centuries, the world didn't really have a time standardization problem. There was not enough mobility for people to notice that one town's time was not synchronized with another's. Each town had it's own sundial, or an acting astronomer who would compute the meridian of the sun, calculate noon, and fire a gun or run up a flag when the time came. Solar noon moves about twelve miles westward every minute along the most populated parts of North America. Trains moved fast enough to show that meridians were different at every longitude. This not only meant that if you took the train from Boston to New York, you would have to reset your watch. It meant that train companies had to keep track of unimaginably complicated calculations to keep their trains running on time. Each train company kept its own time based on where it's headquarters were, so that in Buffalo, for instance, there were three official times because three railroads served the city; in St. Louis there were six official times.
The climax of the book, and of Fleming's successful thinking on time standardization, came with a series of international conferences, culminating in the 1884 Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C. Blaise's description of the conference is great fun, with scientists having to act like diplomats, and those French trying to keep from being humiliated by having to accept a prime meridian in any other country. It was eventually a commercial decision, not entirely what Fleming had planned, and certainly not what the French had wanted. Most shipping was done by navigational charts based on Greenwich, and so the nations voted to make that the prime meridian, although the French abstained and four years later defined their mean time as "Paris mean time, retarded by nine minutes, twenty-one seconds;" this put them in exact accord with Greenwich, without having to mention that detested London suburb.
Blaise has done an outstanding job of bringing some deserved light on Fleming. He has also put some pleasant essays in on how standardizing time affects art and literature, but they are certainly digressions in what is an inspiring story of a man with a good idea and how it changed the world.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A good article, not a book 27 Aug. 2001
By J. J. Kwashnak - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I too came into Blaise's Tim Lord with the outstanding book Longitude on my mind. While Blaise made some very good points to set the situation up, his failure to realy follow through is disappointing. The author has taken what was at heart a very good article and stretched it out into a thin book. Unfortunately, something had to suffer. It is obvious that the author is impressed by Sanford Fleming, but his fondness is for the whole man's accomplishments, not just Standard Time. So as a result we are treated to a lot of forshadowing of Fleming's role with the trans-pacific cable, but of course since it does not relate to the Standard Time issue, it is left hanging. Some of his observations about time were very interesting, and helped set the whole story in context very well. But then he would go off ruminating about the aesthetics of time, or try to set the whole time issue in the context of Victorian changes and Sherlock Holmes, which was just fluff. It didn't say much. It read like a school child trying to puff up his report so it matches the teacher's minimum requirements. Maybe I'm being harsh because I misread Blaise's thesis, but it seemed that he spent more time on time than on society and the effects of time standardization. The conference itself, setting time zones and the prime meridian is almost anticlimactic in it's place. I came away learning about why we have 24 time zones, why the Prime Meridian is in Greenwich, and that the railroads set their own time for a good part of the 1800's. Other than that, I took very little form this book, and very little about who Sanford Fleming was, outside of someone who missed a train and did something about it. This book could have been so much more.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Time Lord is definitely worth the time 26 July 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a straightforward and potentially superficial narrative on the history of standard time, Time Lord is unlikely to satisfy. But if you enjoy writers who challenge and delight with bold ideas and stirring insight, Time Lord by Clark Blaise will surely earn a favored spot on your bookshelf. Blaise is no ordinary writer and Time Lord is no ordinary history book. It may not be an easy read throughout, but it is definitely a compelling and rewarding one for any reader who revels in being roused to think and reflect. Rather than take the obvious and well-trodden paths of conventional biographies, Blaise has produced an enlightening treatise on time in a style that is at once literary and accessible. Yes, dates, places, people and events are offered. Sir Sandford Fleming's story is ably told. And wonderful anecdotes are related. "Notes on Time and Victorian Science" is a particularly fascinating chapter, especially in its description of what happened when the telegraph came to outlying Scottish villages in the early 1850s: "Country folk appeared with their messages tightly rolled, imagining they'd be able to jam them, literally, through the copper wires." (It gets even better!) But what Blaise does best is to transport the reader beyond the obvious, providing unexpected insights (personal and historic) on the creation of standard time and its impact on the world around us - including art, literature and, of course, the standardization of train schedules. On first read, "The Aesthetics of Time" would seem to be the most problematic chapter. Although beautifully written, it initially begs the question: does it really belong? On second reading, however, it emerges as the most daring and rewarding chapter, with the potential to forever influence the way you read a classic novel or view a great work of art. Time Lord is a remarkable tour of the Victorian Age and Clark Blaise is a skilled and illuminating guide. It is most definitely worth the journey.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Not Informative Enough 3 Sept. 2001
By Charles Selinske - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As the sub-title carefully indicates, this is neither a full biography of Fleming nor a thorough history of the adoption of standard time. Rather, the best portions describe Fleming's association with the standardization of time in the 1870s and 1880s, especially the global extension of that concept. Unfortunately, not half of the book deals with this subject. The balance is shameless padding including, among many other topics, reminiscences of the author's life and the author's views on Sherlock Holmes, Dreiser's 'Sister Carrie', and 19th and 20th century literature.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Chronological Mess 14 Nov. 2001
By Matthew Demakos - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Oddly, this book is not told in chronological order. The author gives the plot away early and just blabbers on and on. This book will leave you confused over how many plans Flemming had and how, why, when he changed them. The author skips over interesting concepts he should have elaborate on (Time-balls) and blathers on about boring, unrelated time concepts.
I think the best histories are told as stories. The book told me enough to know just how our "The Professor and the Madman" author would have handled the tale. He would have started with the missed train episode and then gone back in time and told it straight through---more or less.
The author discussed issues before his main character was more than just cardboard. Then again, he remained cardboard throughout the book. Why did I ever finish it?
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