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 in which they lived. A fascinating cross-section of history. (Author tour)

Pub Date: July 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-380-97528-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet