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Benjamin Franklin conceived of it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle endorsed it. Winston Churchill campaigned for it. Kaiser Wilhelm first employed it. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt went to war with it, and more recently the United States fought an energy crisis with it.
For several months every year, for better or worse, daylight savings time affects vast numbers of people throughout the world. And from Ben Franklin's era to today, its story has been an intriguing and sometimes bizarre amalgam of colorful personalities and serious technical issues, purported costs and perceived benefits, conflicts between interest groups and government policy makers. Daylight savings time impacts diverse and unexpected areas, including agricultural practices, street crime, the reporting of sports scores, traffic accidents, the inheritance rights of twins, and voter turnout.
Why should the hours in a day be open to government interference? Who are politicians to dictate how clocks are set? In Preau's engrossing and highly readable history of Daylight Saving Time (DST), these questions are posed many times over by people dead-set against altering "God's time," forgetting (or unaware) that Standard Time was largely created by the railroad companies. Early-to-rise Benjamin Franklin wrote of the good that could come of tinkering with the clock hours, but Englishman William Willett was the first to work out the logistics in his pamphlet, The Waste of Daylight, and lobby for DST in 1907. He died before anything came of his proposal, and it took the economic shock of WWI to get it adopted-and then only temporarily in most countries. Prerau writes knowledgeably about DST, following its trail with a single-minded focus that allows him to untangle the "clock chaos" it sometimes caused in places like Minneapolis and St. Paul, which in 1965 clashed over when to spring forward. Poems and editorial cartoons scattered throughout demonstrate just how fierce and widespread the debate raged. Prerau has compiled what seems to be every intriguing tidbit related to DST (and some that are less interesting, like the full texts of DST ordinances). Uncontroversial as it may seem to some, for others it was a matter of life and death, and Prerau handles the various arguments with admirable skill and evenhandedness, making this an excellent read for anyone curious about this peculiar slice of history.