Its Origin, Its Enigma, Its History

Alexander Waugh


There's nothing quite like the end of one year and the beginning of another to cause humans to consider the subject of time – its passing, slowly or quickly, depending on the age of the one doing the considering – and so your reviewer chose this book for her musings this December.

Time: Its Origin, Its Enigma, Its History. A somewhat daunting title, on the face of it, but the book itself is fascinating, chronicling its subject with humor and anecdote, but always with intelligence. The author, Alexander Waugh, son of satirist Auberon Waugh and grandson of novelist Evelyn Waugh, demonstrates that he, too, has a way with words, as he demonstrates here:

“Insane or not, Bacon was without doubt one of the most fascinating figures of English medieval history. He studied flying and built a machine with flapping wings, he was a pioneer in optics, he forged himself a pair of useful, functioning spectacles, he designed a mechanically powered car and a mechanical boat, and he made a camera obscura for observing eclipses. On top of all this, he wrote long, waffling encyclopedias full to the brim of obscure, yet often fascinating scientific, mathematical, and philosophical thought. Unfortunately, none of his ideas took a hold during his lifetime, and although he is now regarded as one of the most visionary minds of his age, to his contemporaries he was little more than a cantankerous, self-opinionated loony. As fas as we know, his solution to the calendar problem was never even read by the Vatican; certainly nothing was done about it until 300 years after his death.

The reason that the Church became so immersed in the history of the calendar has its roots in the Bible and our ancient scriptures. In order to celebrate the anniversaries of Christ's birth and his ascension, it was important to know when these events were historically supposed to have occurred. If Christmas is supposed to be a winter celebration (if, for instance, the Bible had said that Jesus was born in a snowstorm typical for the time of year), then neither the Pope in Rome nor any other Christian leaders would wish to see subsequent anniversaries of this holy event slipping (by fault of human error in the calendar) into summer or autumn. We will come to Christmas later on. Easter, meanwhile, the anniversary of Christ's resurrection, has always provided the thorniest problem....”

Calendars, eons, nanoseconds, millennia – no instrument or measurement is overlooked in this wholly entertaining and intellectually bracing book which chronicles the enduring human quest to explain, utilize, and understand the enigma of time. Be sure to read all about it (it's later than you think!).

Copyright © 2004, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.