Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar

Duncan Steel, Author
Duncan Steel, Author John Wiley & Sons $50 (432p) ISBN 978-0-471-29827-4
Reviewed on: 10/18/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-471-40421-7
Open Ebook - 432 pages - 978-0-471-43717-8
Open Ebook - 432 pages - 978-0-470-24508-8
Open Ebook - 433 pages - 978-1-280-36433-4
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Australian astronomer Steel (Rogue Asteroids and Doomsday Comets) appears to have packed three disparate books into this single volume: a general history of the development of the calendar system, a more advanced version larded with astronomical information for the science buff or professional, and a reassessment of why England settled the mid-Atlantic coast of North America. According to Steel, Elizabeth I's colonization activities were part of her maneuvering against Pope Gregory XIII. Well aware of the Gregorian calendar's flaws, English scientists thought that if they developed a superior calendar, it would help effect a rapprochement with European nations fence-sitting in the quarrel between London and Rome. Possession of territory on the 77th meridian, in the vicinity of what is now Washington, D.C., was crucial, because English calendar reformers considered it to be ""God's longitude."" Steel's account of this grand, somewhat daft scheme makes an intriguing study in its own right, yet it gets lost amid a tangle of unrelated facts. He advances other interesting theories with abundant background information to back them up: that Jesus was born in April 5 B.C.E. and that there was no room at the inn because it was Passover, not because of an empire-wide census; that the Star of Bethlehem was a comet; and that some major celestial event occurred around 3000 to 4000 B.C.E. because so many of the world's calendar systems began around that time. Steel seems to have never met an interesting fact he didn't like to repeat, and this unfortunate habit bogs down an otherwise excellent study of calendar systems. (Nov.)
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