The Secret Pulse of Time: Making Sense of Life’s Scarcest Commodity. By Stefan Klein. Marlowe & Company/Da Capo. $25.
Sleep Deprived No More. By Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D. Marlowe & Company/Da Capo. $14.95.
Americans are quite familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s famous comment, “Time is money.” They are less familiar with composer Hector Berlioz’ wry remark, “Time is a great teacher; unfortunately, it kills all its pupils.” Even less known is a straightforward but pithy Hindu statement, “Time is holy.” So what is time? Clearly, it depends on who and where you are and what you are doing; it also depends, as science journalist Stefan Klein points out in The Secret Pulse of Time, on when you are: “As the pace of our lives speeds up, our perception follows suit.” Klein’s very wide-ranging look at experiential time delves into what it means to perceive the passage of time, what happens in the brain that connects us to event sequences, and what unexpected correlations there are between time perception and everyday activities. For example, he writes that people concentrate better by drinking coffee because “coffee heightens the effect of noradrenaline in the brain, which results in the release of more dopamine. … People who suffer from attention deficit disorder…are among the most habitual coffee drinkers, because this disorder is caused by a weak executive function, and caffeine can compensate temporarily for this deficiency.” Klein writes with surety and finesse, and is fond of using unexpected juxtapositions to intrigue readers, as when he calls one section of a chapter “Thelma, Louise, and the Rocket.” He points out the realities of time management (“no day has more than 86,400 seconds, and we cannot focus on two things at once during any one of them”) while also exploring the oddities of time perception and management (“moving clocks run more slowly”). This is a discursive book, easily able to accommodate a Marcel Duchamp painting, a scene from the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock film Rope, and an explanation of transcendence: “Paradoxically, we find ourselves able to experience the smallest possible unit of time this intensely because we feel that we are being carried beyond the limits of time and space.” Klein manages to explain how time can be money, a teacher and holy all at once, through a combination of its objective existence (however perceived) and our subjective experience of it.
The Secret Pulse of Time is an intellectually bracing book, but only occasionally a practical one. Sleep Deprived No More is far less elegantly written and far more matter-of-fact in what it seeks to accomplish – and will, at least in sections, be far more welcomed by women who are pregnant or have infants. The book’s intent is spelled out in its subtitle: “From Pregnancy to Early Motherhood – Helping You & Your Baby Sleep Through the Night.” Jodi Mindell, associate director of the
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