Skip to main content

Time – Eva Hoffman ***

In this book, Eva Hoffman diagnoses a problem (particularly in the West) where, over recent years, we have been trying to squeeze more and more into ever shorter periods of time, both at work and in our leisure time. It is as if, she says, we have felt we need to battle against the unstoppable passage of time, as if we feel time is always against us, and that we have to constantly remain busy in order to live worthwhile lives.
We look at the cultural and technological reasons for why this has happened, and consider findings of neuroscience that support Hoffman’s view that many of us need to slow down, overcome our preoccupation with time, take life at a more reasonable pace, and rediscover things like ‘quality time’ with no fixed boundaries we spend with those close to us.
One of the ways of thinking about all of this is the following. Have you ever had the experience of struggling with a difficult concept or idea, and giving up on it in a state of confusion – but of coming back to the idea the day next and finding you understand it much better? Chances are you have, and it will have been because, provided you got enough sleep overnight, your brain had a chance to process and make sense of the information while you were resting. As Hoffman explains, when we overwork ourselves or try and fit too much in, believing we don’t want to waste time or spend time unproductively, we actually deprive ourselves of the necessary ‘downtime’ we need to properly deal with, unconsciously, what we come across in life. This can mean we lose a sense of perspective, and find it more difficult to reflect on the past. Ultimately, it is sometimes good to set aside time to doing nothing in particular, and we should always get sufficient rest.
It is a message that most of us can probably agree with, and that is conveyed well in the book. My problem was that the science was sometimes fairly summary, and I didn’t like the number of times Freud and psychoanalysis were brought into the discussion. There references mean the book just doesn’t read like a convincing scientific exploration of the subject.
This is still an interesting philosophical reflection on the way we perceive time in modern society, though, and will give you pause for thought – and I did enjoy reading it. It is worth reading for its undoubtedly important message, but the science underpinning the message could have been done better.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Matt Chorley

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

David Latchman - Interview

Professor David Latchman, CBE, is a leading UK academic and author of a number of science titles, currently holding the position of Vice-Chancellor of Birkbeck, University of London.  As Vice-Chancellor, Professor Latchman is the chief academic and administrative officer, and has been responsible for the development of the university since his appointment in 2003.   Professor Latchman serves as Chairman of the trustees of the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation, an organisation dedicated the empowerment of the Jewish community through education, employment, medical advancement, and welfare. He also serves as a trustee of the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Philanthropic Foundation, as well as a number of other committees centred around education, and scientific and medical research in the UK and Israel.  This interview is for National Book Lovers' Day (August 9th). Why should books be important to us? Books have always been a big part of my life, and for many reasons. My love for them sta

Hothouse Earth - Bill McGuire ****

There have been many books on global warming, but I can't think of any I've read that are so definitively clear about the impact that climate change is going to have on our lives. The only reason I've not given it five stars is because it's so relentless miserable - I absolute accept the reality of Bill McGuire's message, but you have to have a particularly perverted kind of 'I told you so' attitude to actually enjoy reading this. McGuire lays out how climate change is likely to continue and the impacts it will have on our lives in a stark way. Unlike many environmental writers, he is honest about the uncertainty, telling us 'Despite meticulous and comprehensive modelling, we just don't know how bad things will get, nor can we know.' But any climate change deniers seeing this as an escape clause entirely miss the point. The uncertainty is over how bad things will be, but not over whether or not things will be bad. As we are told, 'tipping poi

Philip Ball - Four Way Interview

Philip Ball is a freelance writer and broadcaster, and was an editor at Nature for more than twenty years. He writes regularly in the scientific and popular media and has written many books on the interactions of the sciences, the arts, and wider culture, including H 2 O: A Biography of Water, Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour , The Music Instinct , and Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything. His book Critical Mass won the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books. Ball is also a presenter of Science Stories, the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of science. He trained as a chemist at the University of Oxford and as a physicist at the University of Bristol. He is also the author of The Modern Myths . He lives in London. His latest title is The Book of Minds . Why science? As the pandemic has shown, there has never been a time when an understanding of science is essential for making informed decisions. But Covid-19 has also revealed the process of science in action, with