EMPIRES OF TIME: Calendars, Clocks, and Cultures by Anthony Aveni

EMPIRES OF TIME: Calendars, Clocks, and Cultures

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Complex, erudite study of the relationship between humans and time, arguing that Western culture has, to its detriment, replaced its birthright understanding of time as being cyclical with the familiar concept of history as a linear arrow. Aveni, an astronomer and anthropologist (Colgate U.), ranges across the centuries and around the globe to make his case. Most creatures, he maintains, adjust their internal clocks to match environmental rhythms (even potatoes respond to barometric pressure). Tracing the history of human timekeeping, from Hesiod and Stonehenge through the Middle Ages to the French Revolution (which fostered a stunningly wrongheaded decimal-based time system--i.e., 10 hours in a day, 10 days in a week, etc.), he demonstrates how this cyclical wisdom has fallen prey to the ""imposition of order,"" so that ""while our old dependence once lay in the gods, our modern deity has become the clock."" We now favor ""ideational time"" over ""lived time."" Major excursions into the timekeeping of the Mayan, Incan, Aztec, and Chinese cultures demonstrate how sophisticated cyclically-based systems can be and underscore our need to ""reconnect ourselves"" to the cosmos. to ""renegotiate the dialogue about human limitations."" Not terribly well organized--Aveni has tackled a monumental subject and sometimes seems to be clambering around it without clear direction--but nevertheless a prodigious example of cross-disciplinary cogitation.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1989
Publisher: Basic Books