Magazine article The New Yorker

Making Time

Magazine article The New Yorker

Making Time

Article excerpt

On a July afternoon in 1876, Sandford Fleming, the chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, missed his train. Though such an occurrence was not unusual in an era when railway companies kept their own time, the misadventure caused Fleming "monumental vexation." But, as Clark Blaise recounts in TIME LORD (Pantheon), it also sparked an idea. Fleming began a crusade against the timekeeping practices of his day, arguing for a new system based on a twenty-four-hour clock and time zones marked by longitude lines; pretty soon his brainstorm had evolved into the system now known as Standard Time.

Fleming's cleverness did wonders for railway passengers, but it offered little help to physicists interested in the more abstract relationship between time and space. It took Albert Einstein to propose that the faster an object travels, the more slowly it experiences the passage of time. In TIME TRAVEL IN EINSTEIN'S UNIVERSE (Houghton Mifflin), the astrophysicist J. …

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