Blog on Math Blogs

Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Synchrony and Simultaneity": A Review of Einstein's Clocks,Poincaré's Maps, by Peter Galison. Reviewed by Hasok Chang. American Scientist,November-December 2003.

This positive review describes the latest book by a renowned historian ofscience who, as the reviewer puts it, "provides a unique and enlightening viewon the origin of time as we know it in the modern age." One of the indeliblepopular images in the history of science is that of Albert Einsteinrevolutionizing physics while working an uninspiring day job as a Swiss patentclerk. This book adds a new dimension to this popular image: "Not only didEinstein actually enjoy his patent-office job," the reviewer writes, "but thework there taught him about the technologies of electromagneticclock-coordination, which was one of the chief preoccupations of theengineering world in the half-century following 1860." It seems that specialrelativity grew out of this hands-on work as much as out of Einstein's powerfulimagination. The book also discusses Poncaré's practical concerns inhis work with the French Bureau of Longitudes and his and his collaborator'sefforts to battle Britain's establishment of Greenwich as the prime meridian.The review is accompanied by a photo of a "decimal clock," a 1793 vestige fromthe French attempt to introduce a decimal system of timekeeping. The captionnotes that mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace "was one of the few scientists totake up the new system."

See also:"Clockwork Science": Review of Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps:Empires of Time, by Peter Galison. Reviewed by Freeman Dyson. The New York Review of Books, 6November 2003, pages 42-44; and
"Seeking Simultaneity": Review of Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Mapsby Peter Galison. Reviewed by M. Norton Miles.Science, 19 December 2003,page 2072.

--- Allyn Jackson