History, History and Philosophy of Science, Reviews

Review: Richet, A Natural History of Time

Pascal Richet’s new book, A Natural History of Time tells the fascinating tale of humanity’s quest to pinpoint the age of the Earth. Beginning with ancient mythology and ending with a detailed discussion of modern scientific attempts to date the Earth, Richet’s book chronicles the many ways in which human societies have conceptualized the idea of time throughout the ages. A recent review in Publishers Weekly explains more:

For millennia humans relied on mythical or biblical accounts to conjure up a birth date for our planet. Astronomer Edmund Haley used the amount of salt in the oceans as his calendar. The great Newton ventured at writing a chronology that took most of the stories of Greek kings and heroes at face value. But as French geophysicist Pascal Richet tells readers, people didn’t get serious about ascertaining the age of the earth until the Enlightenment, when researchers tried to figure the amount of heat lost by the earth to reckon backwards to its molten youth. But a firm date—4.5 billion years—couldn’t be established until the discovery of radioactive elements to date everything from textiles to stones.…
[With A Natural History of Time] geology and natural history buffs will discover a rich, baroquely embellished birthday cake to dig into and enjoy.