Around Easter, so ages ago, I sat down to write this review/recommendation. And now for moths it has been in my drafts unfinished… But I really wanted to write and post a review of the book The History of Time – A Very Short Introduction by Leofranc Holford-Strevens, because I absolutely enjoyed it, and learned so many different things (of which I of course forgot many since I finished the book).

Not so long ago it was the summer solstice, summer has started, the days have started to shorten. All of these elements are related to one thing, TIME. The thing we cannot really grasp, that moves by too quickly or too slowly, that we never seem to have enough of, or else I would have done this review a long time ago…

But what is time?  The History of Time – A Very Short Introduction by Leofranc Holford-Strevens gives a concise explanation of what time is. How time has changed over centuries. How it has been measured, and what elements influence its measurement.

I do not recall exactly what I expected to find in the book, I guess an explanation of how humans went from time being dictated by the sun to the modern world of computers calculating time. When I read The History of Time by Holford-Strevens, I found out that time is a rather complex phenomenon, influenced amongst other things by astronomy, religion, and seasons.

If we take as an example Easter, every year Easter falls at a different moment, after all some years Valentine’s day is ruined by the vow to not eat chocolate during lent. Holford-Strevens explains all of the rules of how Easter is calculated, it is rather complex, and has been a real messy situation in the past. Equinox, moon, and the church one belongs to all influence the calculation of Easter. I liked the idea of Easter happening at two different moments within one country, as was the case of Sweden where it was astronomically calculated:

The case of 1798, however, illustrates a difficulty inherent in the astronomical Easter: although at Uraniborg full moon occurred just before midnight on Saturday, 31 March, in most of Sweden it was already Sunday, 1 April, so that the observance of the astronomical Easter on that day would have entailed celebrating on the day of full moon, a major impropriety. (p.61-62)

Besides Easter, things such as the week are taken apart and explained in detail. There are the countries that are close to roman goods in the naming of the weekdays where as others are closer to nordic gods. For example Friday, which definitely belongs to women: in French it is Vendredi from Venus and in English and Germanic languages it is named after the goddess Freya. Thursday is named after Thor and after Jupiter, which are the goods of Thunder. And well in German the middle of the week, Wednesday is actually called “Mittwoch” meaning mid-week (because even if we often think so otherwise the week starts Sundays and ends on Saturdays).

You know that sometimes the authorities (often religious) decided to leave out a few days in the year? Or that during leap years you would find the same day twice in a row?

As always, I do not want to give too much away, but if you are wondering why non-christian countries and cultures use the christian calendar for counting, are interested in the zodiac, in the days of the week, naming of months. Why a day is 24 hours long and so on, well then I can only recommend that you open The history of Time by Leofranc Holford-Strevens.


Book review by Solveig Werner of The History of Time – A Very Short Introduction by Leofranc Holford-Strevens, published in 2005 by Oxford University Press in the series Very Short Introductions

You can find the book here: Amazon UK, Amazon US


And as the subject of time has interested me at various occasions, I do invite you to read my recent short story “A long forgotten picnic” which deals with travel in time, and my flash fiction piece “Time” written for the A to Z Challenge this April, and toying with the question of stopping time.

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