Notable new booksJan 1, 2003
Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time
By Clark Blaise
Clark Blaise takes the reader into the life and mind of Sir Sandford Fleming, an unsung Canadian who pressed for, and achieved, the adoption of Universal Time and the subsequent method of time keeping that we all take for granted.
As all celestial navigators know, the world is divided into 24 time zones, each one of them 15 ýapart. Yet, prior to 1884, when Standard time was agreed upon, the keeping of time was a capricious system determined not by one universal standard, but by individual localities. This seemed to be acceptable until steamers regularly began plying the Atlantic and railroads cut across continents; the lack of uniformity in time keeping created chaos. Fleming, a self-taught engineer, provided the lever that would revolutionize the system.
Fleming was one of the great visionaries of the Victorian era. He coordinated a worldwide effort that required the cooperation of nations, countless politicians and scientists, all with their own agendas. Yet Fleming was able to convene 25 nations at Washington, D.C., for the first Prime Meridian Conference. It was at this seminal event, after much wrangling and discord, that the present system of time keeping was established with the Greenwich Meridian as the Prime Meridian, the international date line, a universal system of measuring longitude and telling time. Blaise spins this odd yet important tale in an effective and intriguing style.
Pantheon, New York; 256 pages; $24.00
The Nautical Chart
A Novel of Suspense
By Arturo Pérez-Reverte, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden
Our man Coy, a Spanish merchant marine second mate, is on the beach in Barcelona having been suspended by Spanish authorities from sailing on his second mate's license for putting a ship aground off the African coast. It was an honest mistake involving a careless captain and an uncharted rock; yet the fact remains: The ship grounded, and someone other than the captain needed to be held responsible. Coy wanders the museums, bars and auction halls of this Catalonian city while considering — brooding, really — how best to spend his mandatory two years ashore.
An antique nautical chart has just been auctioned off, acquired by a beautiful (of course) and mysterious woman. Coy promptly falls in love and soon finds himself embroiled in a search for treasure off the Spanish coast.
The Nautical Chart is a deftly written suspense story, but it is especially marvelous to those who, like our fictional hero, appreciate nautical literature. Coy's thoughts are full of Melville, Conrad, Stevenson and O'Brian, to name a few, as he literally plots his way closer to a treasure lost from a Jesuit ship in 1767.
Harcourt, New York; 466 pages; $26.