Timothy Rice

Splitting the Second

How long is a day?

Rating: 4/5 – Recommended without hesitation

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Finally! A science book that’s actually about science! Reading this book will teach you about how something actually works!

Splitting the Second tells the history of the last 80 years of scientific timekeeping. Beginning with a summary of the most precise timekeeping methods available in the early 20th century, it goes on to explain the attempts by the scientific community to firmly establish a more robust standard, eventually culminating in adoption of the atomic clock.

If you’ve ever asked yourself “how do these atomic clocks work and why are they using cesium?” this is the book for you. If you’ve ever wondered “why do we even need a clock that only loses one second in 300 billion years, isn’t that a bit excessive?” Then this is the book for you! If you’ve ever been struck trying to figure out how to take that very precise time calculated by your national laboratory and transfer it to your workshop, accounting for the various errors created by prorogation delay and special/general relativity, then guess what? This is the book for you!

Splitting the Second beautifully threads the needle between historical narrative and physics textbook. It precisely recounts the history, problems, progress, and future of scientific timekeeping without ever seeming overwhelming. Its only flaw is it was written almost 25 years ago and doesn’t cover the last quarter century of progress in the field.

Recommended to any scientifically minded person who enjoys the pleasure of finding things out.