The Geography of Time, by Robert V. Levine

For those who are expecting an overly complex book filled with hard data and purely “objective” viewpoints based on research, this book is not for you. Honestly, I didn’t buy it thinking it would be such a book, I bought it as an informative, easy-to-read, accessible for everyone kind of book; and that was precisely what I got.

I believe this book is a good read for everyone. The book kept me interested by introducing not only history, but also anecdotal stories of others, or the author’s own experience, along with methodological issues in assessing tempo, and the results from the vast research on different cultures’ pace of life. The author reveals, early on, the personal relation he has with the subject; and his enthusiasm, his experiences in different cultures, his difficulties in adapting to different conceptions and relations with time kept me engaged, I must admit, because I also share a certain fascination with cross-cultural differences in the way people live their everyday lives.

He goes from explaining the history of clocks, and the way they crept into our lives, dominating us completely; to how worker’s unions in the US struggled to have the days hours increased from 6 to 8 hours (I’m still going to figure out if that was all over different factories in the country, as suggested by the recognition given to the implementor of such measure (Kellogg), or just in his factories). He is able to explain the struggles with finding ways to assess tempo in different cities and cultures, and investigates not only how fast countries, and cities are, but how helpful people are, and the relationships between tempo and health. Perhaps some of the most interesting bits relate to the stories of misinterpretations and differences a westerner finds (the author himself at times) in countries like Brazil, or Mexico, and the idiosyncratic nature of time in Japan. All of this is written in an easy to follow narrative that alert us to the nature and meaning of time in different cultures.

Instead of “preaching” against the fast pace of life (after all, time is money, but it is also a recipe for heart attacks), he is able to convey to the reader the strengths and limits of living in a fast or slow-paced way, and the principle of moderation, even in the way one controls time, and pace in his/her life. Nowadays, it is increasingly easy to say X=Y, when in fact it might not always be the case. By introducing not only the association between the environment (cultural tempo) and the individual’s health and well-being; but also by contemplating how personality (more fast or slow-paced individuals) interacts with it, the author succeeds in creating a best (or worst) case scenario that would not work otherwise, if he took a fatalist standpoint.

I really enjoyed the book, and would recommend it for anyone to read. It’s not one of those “read if you’re a psychologist-or-related-field” book. However, I would not recommend it if what you’re looking for is a hardcore research book on the concept and meaning of time, although the references would certainly help.

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