Head of the prestigious Iowa Writers Program, Clark Blaise is the author of several books. He is married to the novelist Bharati Mukherjee.
Rather than a traditional linear biography of Fleming (for that, see Lorne Green's Chief Engineer), this is a rumination on society's conception of time and how it was dramatically changed at the end of the 19th century. The pace is leisurely as Blaise, former head of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, asks philosophical questions such as "Who owns time?" and explores the interrelations among time, distance, invention, art, and myriad other topics. The main and unifying topic, however, is the Canadian railroad engineer's efforts to create a single universal time, or, failing that, standard time zones that streamlined commerce and travel and scientific research by bringing a welter of "local times" into synchronicity. This book approaches the topic of time zones and railroads in a much more general and nontechnical way than Ian Bartky's Selling the True Time (LJ 7/00) and, as such, is recommended for general science and college collections. Wade Lee, Univ. of Toledo Libs., OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Although he had consulted his guide to Irish railroad travel for the correct time of his train's departure, Sanford Fleming discovered that the train scheduled to depart at 5:35 p.m. would actually depart 12 hours later, at 5:35 a.m. Prior to 1884, conflicts like Fleming's were not unusual since time was not standardized as it is today. Determined to impose a rational order over something so elusive, Fleming, a Canadian engineer and surveyor, turned his attention to the creation of a standard global time based on a 24-hour clock, which he presented to an assemblage of leaders from around the world in 1884 at the Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C. After much scrutiny and debate, these leaders accepted Fleming's proposal, agreeing that the day would begin at midnight and establishing both the Prime Meridian at Greenwich and the International Dateline. Blaise's splendid account traces Fleming's starring role as the creator of a method of measuring time that rules people's lives even today. Blaise, author of 15 previous books of both fiction and nonfiction (Brief Parables of the Twentieth Century: New and Selected Stories, etc.), presents an important history of ideas and examines how this invisible yet remarkable technological achievement of the Victorian era, a period marked by a dogged confidence in its own capacity for progress, changed the world. Blaise writes with perfect pitch and graceful narrative; his most beautiful chapter explores the ways that writers like Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf manipulated time in their work even as they were constrained by it. (Apr. 20) Forecast: Every popular science book that comes down the pike these days is compared by its publisher to Dava Sobel's Longitude. But this beautiful little book may really follow in Sobel's footsteps. Blaise's six-city author tour (San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Iowa City, Seattle and Portland, Ore.) can only help to garner attention. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.