Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time Hardcover – Mar 7 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
This short, jam-packed account by Downing (Shoes Outside the Door; Breakfast with Scot) rights the often misunderstood history of daylight saving time. The idea, proposed in 1907 by British architect William Willett, who had an "epiphany" on one of his daily horseback rides through London at dawn, was first adopted in wartime Germany in 1916 to keep energy costs low. While many nations (including the U.S.) followed Germany's example through WWI, only Britain maintained the policy following the war. In America the practice was denigrated as a reminder of wartime hardship and as symptomatic of big government. It was New York City (not the nation's farmers, as many incorrectly believe) that rallied for its reinstatement. Pressured by bankers and brokers who wanted to capitalize on the hour of arbitrage daylight saving allowed with the London markets, the New York City Board of Aldermen lobbied it into law in 1920. The practice spread mostly haphazardly through the country, despite occasional efforts to enforce uniformity. While the history is awash in tedious legislative minutiae, Downing brings it to life by dramatizing politicians and various industries pitted against one another in absurd, often hilarious debates. It's a colorful story of something we all take to be fundamental, but through history has been maddening, divisive and baffling. Agent, Jonathan Matson.(Apr.)
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Since Congress permanently adopted daylight saving time (DST) in 1966, we've become habituated to the seasonal clock-changing mnemonic of "spring forward, fall back." Stirring us from chronological complacency, Downing joins David Prerau (Seize the Daylight [BKL Mr 1 05]) in exploring its history, once nationally controversial and still contentious in states such as Indiana, which still resist the blandishments of pro-DST groups. It is these lobbyists and allied editorialists who attract Downing's merry asides about the ever-morphing justification for DST. It sprang from the mind of William Willett, who disliked Londoners sleeping in on summertime mornings. From its origin as an antisloth measure, Downing brings his narrative across the Atlantic, where DST charmed chamber-of-commerce leaders as a panacea for business efficiency. Warfare, not market-clearing microeconomics, persuaded Congress to adopt DST in 1918, but outraged farmers prompted its repeal the next year. Novelist Downing writes gracefully, with a penchant for the strange detail, and he draws much mirth from the facts about DST and its amorphous benefits. Gilbert Taylor
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The US adopted DST in 1918, but repealed it just a year later; the repeal was sparked by protests by farmers, who were among the first, though certainly not the last, to insist on a return to what they viewed as "God's time." How God came to divide the day into twenty-four hours, however, they did not clarify. The influence of farmers, however, could not compete with that of Wall Street, which liked the idea since it meant that there would be a one hour window in the morning when both the New York Exchange and the London Exchange were open simultaneously, permitting exploitation of prices during those sixty minutes. In fact, the New York Exchange so missed the lucrative hour when DST was repealed that it put itself on DST just for trading hours. Exchanges in Boston and Philadelphia did not want to lose out, so they followed suit, small islands of anomalous time within the nation. The patchwork coverage of DST and the attempted legal patches to make it all sensible resulted in timely confusion. If you drove the 35 miles from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, and wanted your watch to keep the local time, you would have to change it seven times on the route. In St. Paul, Minnesota, there was an eighteen-story office building with nine floors on DST and nine floors not.
From time to time, like during wars, DST was promoted as the patriotic thing to do, since it saved energy, but this has not conclusively been shown. Some think there are good scientific reasons for DST, but there is no science behind it. What powers DST in a small way is emotion; most people simply like the long summer evenings (and Downing admits that he is one of these). I like it because it shows the arbitrary nature of timekeeping; we can shift hours just as we can (or could, if we wanted to) shift from feet to meters. The biggest force, though, is economic. Wall Street likes it, and that's important, but there were significant gains for specific industries. Sales of golf equipment and course fees go up in DST, and so do sales of barbecue equipment, and seeds and gardening supplies. Farmers still don't like it, but there are fewer and fewer of them to complain. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of people (and businesses like movie studios) that don't like it, and although we have relative standardization in its implementation now, there are still attempts to tinker with it. Falsifying clock time in America has become "the most sustained political controversy of the last 100 years," says Downing. His often hilarious book shows that the controversy isn't going to go away any time soon.
Certainly Downing provides information in Spring Forward that Prerau does not include in his book. Downing offers a fuller account of the 1966 U.S. legislation that regularized (more or less) DST, and he writes about the attempts of various Pacific island states to profit from the millennial celebrations by tinkering with their clocks. But on the whole Prerau's Seize the Daylight is the more thorough and informative of the two books. Prerau's approach to the subject is easier to follow and, frankly, his book is simply a more interesting read. If you have the time, as it were, by all means read both books. But if you're going to read just one book about DST, I recommend you make it Prerau's Seize the Daylight.
Debra Hamel -- author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece (Yale University Press, 2003)
Downing begins with Congress's passage of a Daylight Saving bill in 1918 only to be repealed a year later. The ensuing chaos is worth the price of the book. State legislatures, local governments and citizens up in arms tried (and often succeeded) in changing the time that would suit themselves or their constituents best. The book is full of witty anecdotes. On April 24, 1932 he cites two persons who "died" of DST....the first account tells of a Chicago woman who climbed a ladder to change her clock, fell, and broke her neck. On the same day a Pennsylvania man who was so concerned about getting together a petition to repeal Daylight Saving Time died of a heart attack. Downing, however, has many serious points in his references. I couldn't quite believe it when I read that for years China, geographically as large as the United States, had only one time zone!
"Spring Forward" delves into the proponents and opponents of DST and how they've jockeyed for positions of power on the subject. It is an exposure of years of government dithering and Downing delivers a quick thrust of the knife into the heart of political cowardice. I heartily recommend this book as a quick, easy, informative and very funny read on the subject of Daylight Saving Time.
Both books give some background history of timekeeping. Prerau's goes back to ancient days and covers the previous changes from temporal hours to equal hours, from apparent to mean time, and from mean local to standard time. Downing's book starts at a later point, and also devotes less space to the details, as well as putting this material in a flashback chapter, which makes for inferior organization.
In addition, I find this book is not written as well as Prerau's, which does a better job of holding my interest, and in addition, Downing makes a number of minor (but significant) errors such as writing "latitude" when he means "longitude" or "east" when he means "west." This causes a bit of difficulty on some occasions.
I cannot say I didn't enjoy this book, but I liked Prerau's better.
Downing begins with the origination of the idea of Daylight Saving in England, takes you through its first implementation in Germany during WWI, quickly followed by Allied nations including the United States. The story is interesting in that the debate surrounding Daylight Savings has been more or less active from 1918 forward. The players usually don't come down on the side you've been led to believe by your parents and the media.
This is a great book for those who see what most people perceive as non-noteworthy occurences and feel the need to understand how they came to be. Highly recommended.
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