Saving the Daylight by David S. Prerau
How nice of Mr. Prerau to list the newspapers he’s read in the course of research for this informative insight into why - twice a year - we change the clocks in order to conserve the resource of daylight. Christmas is coming and the bibliography is certainly getting fat. The book would be one hundred pages shorter if it weren’t for the inclusion of this bloated homage to academic, pedantic nuances. Nobody would quite imagine how much humour, entertainment and controversy have emerged from the battles to impose daylight saving hours and the counter reformations to have such practices outlawed and their participants brought up to the murky glare of ridicule. Mr Prerau takes the reader on a jaunt through history as narrative. What the reader discovers is sometimes informative, sometimes entertaining and, other times, boring beyond belief.
The book is written in “American” - with colour regulated to “color” - and is largely written for an American audience - choosing at one moment to instruct the reader about the eccentricities of British life and culture and the next, to mock and giggle at our stiff-upper-lip and idiosyncratic behaviour. Saving The Daylight is the printed word equivalent of the Culture Show on BBC Two. It contains brief moments of interesting, thought provoking content before careering forward in order to breeching the barricades of the bland. The campaigns which led to the enforcing of daylight saving hours are vividly recollected and Prerau uses his skill as both an academic and a storyteller to illustrate history as if it formed part of some grand, panoramic adventure story. But, at the same time, the campaigns are dressed in the emperor’s new clothes and aren’t anywhere near as interesting as they first purport to be.
The use of photographs in the book is odd and often jars with the progression of the text. The use of mathematical diagrams, scientific illustrations and mathematical tables composed by the famous American Benjamin Franklin and others appears both bizarre and pointless. Just when you thought you were reading history told as a story, you find yourself in the mad, bad world of people who would rather look at facts and figures than open their eyes to majesty and wonder that exists all around them. Escapism is defeated and the suspended disbelief crashes to the floor like a dislodged chandelier. The reader is pushed back from the text and all Hell breaks loose as the reader fumbles towards the ecstasy of rediscovering the narrative that doesn’t have figures, diagrams and pie charts dotted through it. If you’re going to tell us a story while we sit around the fire, please don’t ask us to squint in the light of the flames to look at the accompanying pictures. We are not in the business of mass marketing an academic’s dissertation.
I write this review with a heavy heart as I can feel the slow, odd passage of time offered to us by the dying autumn and the lapping-at-our-feet winter. As if by chance and more likely through design, I turned the final page of this book on the day the clocks went back one hour. Well, all except my Freeview box that decided it wasn’t too keen on Mr Prerau’s favourite subject. Subjects that excite interest in only a minority of the population sow the seeds of chaos and controversy faster than any politician or cultural movement. Prerau has done a good job with the subject of daylight saving hours and his book is an enjoyable read- if, at times, tedious to the point of distraction. Yet, its contents are more likely to provide plentiful fodder for the Society of Useless Information to chew upon than instil any meaningful insight in the mind of the reader. The campaigns and campaigners who brought about daylight saving have achieved a great deal. Their achievements must be acknowledged. Their stories are entertaining and we still talk of daylight saving to this day. Human beings created time and now time is master over human beings. Debate was roused by daylight saving and debate- when civil and nothing else- is always a good, stimulating thing. Yet, I remain convinced that this book is at best a topic for after dinner conversation and at worst a prompt for pub quiz questions. It might seem like a black, bleak cliché to say so, but- by avoiding this book- you really could save yourself some time.