Barnes & Noble
January 1, 1998
The mechanical clock was one of the technological advances that brought Western civilization to a position of leadership. In Revolution in Time, David S. Landes details how and why this breakthrough occurred.
Until the fourteenth century we hear only of water clocks and sundials. Then the mechanical clock swept Europe – a “revolution in time” that, the author explains, was driven by the needs of the church and of the urban labor force. In the 1500s watches appeared and, by the end of the century, proliferated. Landes relates that Elizabeth I of England owned a watch built into a finger ring and equipped with a kind of alarm – a prong that came out and gently scratched her finger.
Landes also describes improvements in timekeeping devices – the pendulum and the balance spring, for example – and how some of the keenest minds in Europe labored long years to develop the marine chronometer – an invention of incalculable importance for trade and exploration in that it established the accurate calculation of longitude.
In another section, devoted to the clock and watchmaking industry, Landes treats such topics as fakes and smuggling in the eighteenth-century watch market; the dazzling success of the Swiss watchmakers, which put their country on the world economic map; and how the “quartz revolution” brought Swiss supremacy to an end.
Enhanced by Landes’s zesty style and his gift for selecting memorable anecdotes, Revolution in Time is a book one can read straight through from cover to cover without once checking the clock.