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The 5,000-year struggle to align the heavens with the clock and what happened to the missing ten days. Measuring the daily and yearly cycle of the cosmos has never been entirely straightforward.The year 2000 is alternatively the year 2544 (Buddhist), 6236 (Ancient Egyptian), 5761 (Jewish) or simply the year of the Dragon (Chinese). The story of the creation of the Western calendar is a story of emperors and popes, mathematicians and monks, and the growth of scientific calculation to the point where, bizarrely, our measurement of time by atomic pulses is now more acurate than Time itself: the Earth is an elderly lady and slightly eccentric - she loses half a second a century. Days have been invented (Julius Caesar needed an extra 80 days in 46BC), lost (Pope Gregory XIII ditched ten days in 1582) and moved (because Julius Caesar had thirty-one in his month, Augustus determined that he should have the same, so he pinched one from February). The Calendar links politics and religion, astronomy and mathematics, Cleopatra and Stephen Hawking. And it is published as millions of computer users wonder what will happen when, after 31 December 1999, their dates run out...

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781857029796
ISBN-10: 1857029798
Format: Paperback
(178mm x 126mm x 37mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Fourth Estate Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 6-May-1999
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » All of our lives are dominated by the calendar and run by time. This first general history of the calendar shows how it has changed over the millennia. The Egyptians were the first to think in these terms, as early as 4236BC, and it was Julius Caesar who attempted to impose some conformity across nations in the first century BC. Despite the fact that his Julian calendar gained time over the solar year, it was not until 1277 that the great scholar-monk Roger Bacon pointed out that reform was required and not until 1582 that the Gregorian calendar was finally adopted in Catholic Europe. A further 170 years would elapse, however, before the change was accepted in Britain and only in 1949 could the entire world agree on what day of the year it was. A fascinating account. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Time flows inevitably, but the calendar is a human institution - and its history is a colorful mix of science, whim, and pure chance. Ancient peoples recognized that certain natural phenomena (the phases of the moon, the seasons of the year) recurred in a regular pattern. Our earliest record of a firm date comes from Egypt, where the annual rise and fall of the Nile gave a clear marker of the most crucial time of the year: spring planting. Other societies (Hebrews, Greeks, Romans) established years based on lunar cycles or arbitrary counting systems, some of which still survive. But the movements of earth, moon, and sun exist in no simple ratio to one another, and so all these early calendars needed frequent adjustment - with inevitable uncertainty and confusion. At last Julius Caesar scrapped the Roman calendar for one based instead on advanced Alexandrian science, with alternating months of 30 and 31 days, and a leap year to accommodate the odd fraction. His successors almost immediately began tinkering with it, changing the names and the lengths of months; for a while, they even had trouble remembering when to insert leap years. Thirteen centuries after Caesar's reforms, Roger Bacon, an inquisitive English friar, saw that the calendar was still not accurate, and informed the pope of the fact. The Church had downplayed exact measurement of time (why bother when the Second Coming is expected at any moment?) but the fact that Easter was now two weeks distant from the correct date proved a sufficient spur to reform. Two centuries later, the Church accepted Bacon's findings and instituted a new calendar, essentially the one we use today. Veteran science writer and NPR commentator Duncan (Residents: The Perils and Pleasures of Educating Young Doctors, 1996) provides vivid portraits of the various figures who played roles in this process and of their times. A fascinating cross-section of history. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - David Ewing Duncan

David Ewing Duncan is a writer and traveller. The author of three previous books this is his first UK publication. He is also the curator of the Smithsonian exhibition of The Calendar.

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