About Time by Professor Adam Frank is a history of how and why Time has been measured down through the ages, from Prehistory to the Present,and the interwoven relationship between Time here on Earth, and Time as it is measured in the stars,the distinction between what Adam Frank regards,as cultural and cosmic time. It is also a history of humanity's constant philosophical debate about the nature of Time itself.Written by an astrophysicist and difficult to classify,this book would seem to appeal to serious students of History, Geography,Society and Culture,Mathematics,Philosophy, Physics and Astronomy, (maybe even Astrology!)if not equally to any other human beings whose lives have been affected by the apparent impact of time on a regular basis. I would classify it as History, because it adopts a chronological approach in relation to its subject, the seeming tautology implicit in this statement underlining the dominance of Time in making sense of human affairs and society.
There are three strands interwoven in Frank's discourse, the history of time measurement from prehistory to the digital age, the role played by scientists such as Newton and Einstein and others in developing our understanding of time and the Cosmos, and Frank's own thesis developed in the final chapters that the dominant Big Bang Theory is now being challenged by newer alternative theses of creation and time, that may overturn what is generally believed to be our current understanding of the Cosmos. These last few chapters are less anecdotal and may be less accessible to readers not well read in current issues related to Mathematics and Physics
However,the first part of the book,the history of Time down here on Earth is the most accessible, with prehistoric archaeological evidence of markings on stone being used to denote the passing of seasons offered to posterity as one of the first acknowledgement of time's importance in society. As society and lifestyles moved from the nomadic to the city bound,the measurement of time has become more and more precise. The clock, invented by someone unknown became prominent in Europe in the 14th Century, and public clocks,replacing church bells as time pieces,originally only displayed an hour hand. The minute hand only became important during the industrial revolution when factory owners such as Crowley of Crowley Ironworks in 1791, found it necessary to quantify his workers' time so that no time on the production line was wasted by excessive breaks. When rail transport became significant in the nineteenth century, the concept of standardised time zones and arrival and departure times became important. Now in our digital age time is measured in milli seconds in a society that seems to move constantly faster. Frank offers us a range of anecdotes to illustrate his point.
Parallel to this,Frank traces the history of humanity's relationship with the Cosmos,offering us anecdotes about the contributions and discoveries of the ancient star gazers as well as those made by scientists and mathematicians both well known and lesser known over the centuries. In evaluating the impact of accepted geniuses such as Newton and Einstein in relation to their discoveries of gravity and relativity, he humanises them as well as elucidating their ideas. The evolution of key inventions such as the telescope, from Galileo in medieval times to the Hubble telescope is also discussed, as well as twentieth century inventions of radio and the atomic bomb,along with how such equally large scientific concepts of thermodynamics,relativity, and 'dark matter' are linked to Time and the universe.
On a more philosophical level Frank acknowledges questions such as where did Time begin,or does Time exist at all as big concepts,which have challenged scientists and philosophers from Aristotle to the present. Frank postulates that the now dominant scientific concept of The big Bang theory, or the expanding universe,first popularised by Fred Hoyle in the 1950s ,is now becoming obsolete as newer competing scientific theories about the cosmos are considered. Summing up in his last chapter, he states that 'strong and convincing evidence for string theory,brane cosmology and multiverse models may come in the new few decades.'He spends the last few chapters attempting to elucidate the meaning of each of these recondite concepts using the language of Physics,for both the general reader, and the student of Astrophysics.
This is a fascinating book,but its scope and density is daunting,making a neat summary of its entire contents difficult. Some general readers depending on their level of education or degree of personal interest are likely to find some sections of it more readable and digestible than others,though all are likely to strongly relate to the book's anecdotes, graphics and photos
If Scotty, the Engineer in Star Trek once exclaimed dogmatically 'You canna change the Laws of Physics!',Adam Frank leaves readers to ponder that in the future,or even now, that may not necessarily be true.