This is the fourth book I’ve read by Simon Garfield, so I already knew what to expect in terms of subject coverage and writing style for this one. He does not write straightforward histories of his chosen topics. Instead, he weaves personal narrative and experiences with interviews, research and seemingly random stuff in order to create interesting pieces of non-fiction. Timekeepers is no exception. It’s eccentric but it also makes you think.
The theme running through this book is how our obsession with time has impacted on our lives. This covers a fascinating variety of elements, including: the French Revolutionary calendar, why people still buy mechanical watches, the development of the CD, the metaphorical Doomsday Clock, the most famous photograph of the Vietnam War, the slow food movement and how the railways helped to synchronise time zones. Simon even has a go at watchmaking and also struggles on a car production line. He watches a 24-hour film and meets Roger Bannister. I was impressed at the number of different things packed into the book. It wasn’t always riveting, as some parts were more interesting to me than others. However, overall I’d say it was a good use of my reading time, although it’s not as good as his more recent book about miniature things.
I think the book became less fascinating towards the end, but maybe this is because when I’m approaching the 300th page of any book, I get impatient to finish. I’m sure that this book could have been shorter without losing its essence. The section on time management self-help was somewhat dull, although it made a point about not having the time to read about how to free up your time.
In summary, this book is not a waste of time, providing that you like reading about time.
First published in 2016 by Canongate.
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