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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than ever, time is a mystery
I have long been fascinated by time. Why does time's arrow appear to flow in only one direction? Why is it that our experience of time can vary depending on what particular sort of experience we are undergoing?
Adam Frank offers a story in two parts. The early chapters of his book are about the links between culture and time. His remarks on this theme range from the...
Published on 3 May 2012 by John Ogden

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3.0 out of 5 stars A noble effort to intertwine our cultural attitude to time with cosmology
This is a curious book that tries to be great - and it almost succeeds. Adam Frank makes a determined effort to interweave two apparently unconnected strands of science and technology history - the personal appreciation of time in human culture and our cosmology. Along the way he brings in a whole host of little details - whether or not you feel that the main aim of the...
Published 1 month ago by Brian Clegg


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than ever, time is a mystery, 3 May 2012
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This review is from: About Time (Kindle Edition)
I have long been fascinated by time. Why does time's arrow appear to flow in only one direction? Why is it that our experience of time can vary depending on what particular sort of experience we are undergoing?
Adam Frank offers a story in two parts. The early chapters of his book are about the links between culture and time. His remarks on this theme range from the dawn of pre-history (the beginning of time?) through the development of human interest in various cycles of time: the day, the month, the year, and so on. As the accuracy of scientific observations increases so there is a shift in human perceptions of time. As the present time we (in the developed world) are captives to a time-world whose granularity is very tiny; our smart phones and GPS receivers drive us to divide time into ever smaller intervals. This exposition of time as a cultural artefact is excellent.
But with the researches of Einstein we have been taught that things are not quite as simple as we imagined. Time, space and velocity interact in ways that challenge our facile preconceptions. Even as Einstein's results were finding their way into the scientific mainstream, other researchers were probing even deeper imponderables: was there a beginning of time? Is time linear or circular? Can it even go backwards???
So the book shades into its mind-blowing second half, as Frank guides his readers through a bewildering collection of theories about time and its beginnings (or not) and the possibilities of multiple universes. One wonders: where is William of Occam when you need him?
So it is that some cosmologists have become disenchanted with the increasingly weird speculations about time and space and try to draw the scientific community back to evidence-based reasoning.
It is not to be wondered at that Adam Frank's book claims no right to reach firm conclusions. That is the state of play as the moment. As an exposition of the scientific approach to knowledge and truth this is a very stimulating book. Science has its skeptics and its devotees. Both would be well advised to read this book and pay heed to its remarks about how science proceeds.
I read the Kindle edition of the book, and did quite a lot of highlighting. There are many notes and references at the end of the book, so anyone who gets really hooked can easily discover where to go next. How many lifetimes have you got?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About time, 19 July 2012
This review is from: About Time (Kindle Edition)
This book is an excellent, comprehensive look at all aspects of time, some of which I hadn't thought of before. It is well written and easy to follow.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really good parts; needed the services of a good editor, 20 Jun 2013
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This review is from: About Time: From Sun Dials to Quantum Clocks, How the Cosmos Shapes Our Lives (Paperback)
It's a curious book: unique in starting the narrative far back in history, and working gradually forward (more or less chronologically) through Egyptians, dark ages, the one-handed clock era, two-handed clock era, the life effects on humans of a changing understanding of time; right through to the modern theories of time in the cosmos. Even as an avid reader of cosmology books, some things were new and fascinating to me; while some things I've read elsewhere became clearer or gave new insight.

Time is abundant in this book. It's the primary subject, of course, but also its strength and its weakness. On the positive side, Adam Frank takes the time other authors cannot afford to give lots more detail. For example, I've often heard that Lamaître was the Belgian Priest who first theorised the big bang, and about Gamow's work in nuclear physics. But this book told the story of how the Big Bang concept was almost separately theorised three times and fell out of favour; about weaknesses of Lamaître's concept; about the Alpher and Gamow paper about the Big Bang to which Gamow spuriously added the name of the Nobel laureate Hans Bethe as a joke to make the paper's authors sound like "Alpha, Beta and Gamma"; that all three scientists had eventually left theoretical physics in some disillusionment, and that Gamow had written "Mr Tompkins" books about a guy falling asleep during lectures of famous physicists and having dreams which explained the principles of their work. This kind of fascinating detail runs through the book, and it's great!

On the other hand, the author takes regular time-outs from his factual account, to relate bizarre stories which seem so tangential, it's like somebody switching TV channels without warning. These asides most often come at the beginning of the chapter, and in the paper publication they're helpfully printed in italic which allows the accustomed reader to skip them. Listeners to the audio-book version are out of luck, and must just try to be patient until normal service resumes.

So in summary, I think it's a really good read; but it should be a slightly better and 25% shorter read, to make it an excellent book. In fact, I've persuaded myself while writing this review that the book is nearer 4* quality than my original intention of a 3* rating.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A noble effort to intertwine our cultural attitude to time with cosmology, 11 Nov 2014
By 
Brian Clegg "Brian Clegg" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This is a curious book that tries to be great - and it almost succeeds. Adam Frank makes a determined effort to interweave two apparently unconnected strands of science and technology history - the personal appreciation of time in human culture and our cosmology. Along the way he brings in a whole host of little details - whether or not you feel that the main aim of the book is successful, there is plenty to enjoy in here.

To begin with, that blend of two disparate strands works very well. We start with time that is linked to the heavens and so is inevitably tied up with cosmology. Later on we get the monastic measures of time, the first clocks, the spread of mechanical time, electrical synchronisation and the railways, modern time keeping, the Outlook program from Microsoft Office and our modern hyper-connected, always aware world, and alongside it the move from mythical cosmologies through Greek and Copernican versions of the solar system, our expanding view of the universe, various Big Bang theories and their burgeoning rivals. (Frank pretty much has the Big Bang as dead by now.)

Sometimes the interweaving is impressive. For instance, I knew that Einstein came up with his special relativity with its very different views of simultaneity while he was working in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. But I had assumed the work was a sinecure he got out of the way quickly before thinking his important thoughts. Frank points out that much of the patent material he was working on would be about electrical synchronisation of clocks - a concept with simultaneity at its heart - so could be directly inspirational in his thinking.

For much of the rest of the book, though, the linkage between our cultural perception of time and cosmology seemed forced, especially when Frank makes Outlook one of the crucial steps. Unlike the other mileposts, which applied to everyone, only a small percentage of the population has ever used Outlook, making it a clumsy choice. I found the style decidedly forced, particularly in the way each chapter began with a rather twee fictional dramadoc representation of a point in history (or the future). And there was a tendency to state as 'fact' descriptions of historic, and particularly prehistoric events we really don't know much about. This particularly struck me in the description of neolithic myth and ritual which is pure supposition. I think Frank should have read the superb Motel of the Mysteries, which features future archeologists treating a motel room as if it were an Egyptian tomb, assuming, for instance, that the sanitisation strip on the toilet was a ritual marker. (Oh, and I was really irritated with the way he used 'megalith' as a name for a monument like Stonehenge, where it is actually one of the stones the structure is built with, not the monument itself.)

All in all, then, a noble effort, and there was much to like, but it just didn't quite work for me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Time treat!, 7 Jun 2013
By 
G. Wylie "george11171" (Scottish Highlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: About Time: From Sun Dials to Quantum Clocks, How the Cosmos Shapes Our Lives (Paperback)
It is high time that we got an excellent book that examines all the nooks and crannies of the numerous and confusing theories relating to the passage of time. And this is just that excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed the ease with which Frank explains this complex, yet very personal subject. And I intend finding the time to read this book again. Thoroughly recommend
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4.0 out of 5 stars About Time, 6 Jan 2013
By 
Mr. N. C. Gravette (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: About Time: From Sun Dials to Quantum Clocks, How the Cosmos Shapes Our Lives (Paperback)
This book contains many interesting aspects of time and what it means to us. Sometimes the language is a bit stuffy but I guess that I will be digging into it for may years to come.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative., 8 Feb 2013
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This review is from: About Time (Kindle Edition)
I haven't finished this book yet but what I've read so far is quite good. I do intend to complete it, however.
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