Book Review: Spring Forward: The annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. by Michael Downing

This will be a short review since it’s non-fiction and since, well, it was so darn confusing reading it.

I just recently started listening to another writer’s podcast called Writer’s Voice. In early March, they had author Michael Downing on their program discussing his latest book which dealt with the whole confusing mess of Daylight Saving Time, and it sounded so interesting that I ran out to the library and got it right away. Frankly, I was hoping it would tell me why the heck Daylight Saving Time was moved up several weeks to March instead of it’s usual time in April. Then I started wondering why the heck we do it at all? It wasn’t something I usually thought about, at least, not until I had Daniel and it started screwing with his sleep schedule.

springforwardDaylight Saving Time (and it’s Saving, not Savings, like people are wont to say) was actually a concept that was bandied about since the early 1800s, when snobbish morning people, realizing that most common folk still slept and the markets were closed when the sun rose, proposed setting the clocks forward so they could get the maximum benefit of sunlight. Despite its name, it wasn’t really about saving daylight or energy. Downing claims that the blame was eventually put on farmers for wanting it, although I never heard farmers mentioned whenever someone complained about DST (in fact, I don’t think anyone I knew every really complained about it–we just go along with it like mindless sheep. Move our clocks in the spring and fall? Oh yeah. That makes perfect sense.)

I was surprised to read (or maybe I shouldn’t have been) that DST was actually pushed more by corporate America so they could have an extra hour of daylight in the afternoon to play golf, as well as retail stores and the oil companies, who depended on consumers to use that hour of daylight to spend more money. Now that makes more sense. In fact, when they talk about energy being saved as far as less electricity being used in the afternoon, studies have shown that a piddling 2% of energy is saved. In fact, we consume more–by spending more money doing outdoors stuff, using gas to drive, etc.

Downing’s book is interesting in that we get the whole sordid history of DST, and time being measured in general. It goes into the jumbled mess of time zones, in how back in the 1900s, everyone basically kept their own time, no matter where they were. Time zones didn’t become standardized until after World War II, and many people actually objected strongly to pushing their clocks forward. My favorite quote from the book comes a Indianapolis ranter to the New York Times:

“A child gets up in the morning under daylight time and cries because he has just lost an hour of sleep. A parent has to whip him to get him to go to school. Maybe has had breakfast and maybe not. He whines all day. When he comes home, his parents give him an aspirin. We are living in a drug age. The schoolchildren are so busted that they have to have drugs. Then when Communism comes along, what are we going to do?”

Come to think of it, Indiana’s pretty screwed up anyway.

New York was the only city to truly welcome it–something to do with being able to do trading with England for an extra hour before the markets closed in Europe. At some point, there were different time zones within the same city: Chicago’s banks would run on DST while everywhere else didn’t. It truly was a mess, and the more you read Downing’s book, the more confusing it gets.

The book does have witty parts. It starts off really interesting, but then it gets rather scrawled towards the end. I’m still unsure about Nixon’s role–if he was for DST or against it? (Downing seems to feel the same.) I never did come away from it wondering if we ever figured it out. Downing kind of stops when the world reaches millennium time, with the implication that DST is still being debated.

Afterwards, I went to this website that explains the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Seems that Bush signed this act that officially changed the date for the start of DST to March. Why? I believe it is an experiment being done by the Secretary of Energy, who plans to report the findings to Congress to see if energy really is saved. If not, then it will get pushed back down to April.

Uh, okay. To be really honest, I got no complaints about DST. I’ve really been enjoying having daylight still about when it’s 6pm. But really, if that’s the case, why not just have DST all year round? Or why try to fool ourselves that we got an extra hour of time, when really we’re just doing things an hour later than usual?

Feh. Not gonna think about it anymore. This book gets two clocks out of five for all the confusion, but check it out anyway. At least I learned that when it comes to time, money still rules over it.

4 Responses

  1. I think that Daylight Saving Time can be explained scientifically by Eienstein’s general theory of relativity. Time slows down when in the vicinity of extremely dense phenomena such as black holes or… politicians.

  2. The DST debate flew over my head, and your review tells me i didn’t miss much. Except for a headache I would have got.

  3. I was led to this blog because you linked to my interview on Writer’s Voice of Michael Downing about his book, SPRING FORWARD. I’m glad you listen to the podcast!

    This interview was a case where the author was ultimately more interesting “on tape” — possibly because it’s a shorter format. I enjoyed great parts of the book, but it seemed like it would have been best as a long article than a book. However, forever more, as I hear pundits claim that DST saves energy, I think back to SPRING FORWARD and smile knowingly to myself.

    Thanks for listening to Writer’s Voice!

  4. Thanks for enjoying the Cafe! Yes, I agree. The author made the subject much more interesting than the book, so I picked it up more out of curiosity. I am happy to say that I know more now than most people about Daylight Saving. What it is, exactly, I’m not sure, but at least I know it!

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