Biology, History and Philosophy of Science, Reviews

Review: Richet, A Natural History of Time

jacket imagePascal Richet’s new book, A Natural History of Time, explores the various ways that human societies have conceptualized the idea of time. By tracing the various attempts throughout the history of western civilization to pinpoint the age of the earth, Richet’s book tells the story of how human societies have progressively built a chronological scale that has made it possible to reconstruct the history of nature itself. As a recent review in the New York Sun notes, Pascal’s book pays special attention to the rise of the scientific method as the dominant paradigm for the creation of this chronology. Adam Kirsch writes for the New York Sun:

How old is the Earth? Mr. Richet sets out to explore humanity’s attempts to answer this most perplexing of questions, which acted as a spur and a baffle to human ingenuity for 2,500 years. Before it could be solved, we needed to invent chemistry and geology, astronomy and physics—to isolate the elements, read the sedimentary record, understand the evolution of species, and chart the movement of the stars.…
Not only does A Natural History of Time shed light on key advances in the history of science, from the ancient Greeks to the X-ray, it reminds us of the real heroism and nobility of the scientific enterprise. Today, science and technology have advanced to such a point that we tend to think mainly about their dangers—nuclear weapons, global warming, cloning. Yet our lives are supported by an immense edifice of scientific ingenuity, which we seldom understand or even think about. Mr. Richet reminds us that each acre of the continent of modern science was won back from an ocean of ignorance, by the hard work and intellectual courage of individuals.