Seize the Daylight
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"Engrossing . . . an excellent read" —Publisher's Weekly
"The best kind of history: rigorous . . . but chock-full of lively anecdotes." —Kirkus Reviews
"Rewarding . . . well researched and wryly presented." —Booklist
"Prerau's book is the liveliest chronicle imaginable on this topic." —Kansas City Star
"The definitive book on Daylight Saving Time." —The Economist

Seize the Daylight:
The Curious and Contentious Story
of Daylight Saving Time

by David Prerau

Distributed by Basic Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group

From the time of Ben Franklin, who first propounded the concept, through to the twenty-first century, the story of daylight saving time 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 policymakers.

It impacts diverse and unexpected areas, including agricultural practices, street crime, the reporting of sports scores, energy conservation, television schedules, traffic accidents, voter turnout, and even the inheritance rights of twins.


And the story of daylight saving time is filled with fascinating anecdotes and remarkable incidents. In September 1999, for example, the Palestinian West Bank was on daylight saving time while Israel had just switched back to standard time. West Bank Palestinians prepared time bombs and smuggled them to four Arab Israelis, who misunderstood the time on the bombs. As a result, the bombs exploded one hour early, as they were being planted, killing three terrorists instead of the intended victims, two busloads of people.

With a popular look at science and history, Seize the Daylight presents an intriguing and surprisingly entertaining story of our attempt to regulate the sunlight hours—the many contentious political and scientific battles and the numerous fascinating anecdotes, all spiced with the political cartoons, campaign posters, songs, and poetry of the advocates and the dissenters.

BOOK INDEX: Seize the Daylight covers the vast number of people, places, issues, events, and anecdotes that comprise the story of daylight saving time. For an idea of the scope of the book, view the Book Index.


"An extra yawn one morning in the springtime, an extra snooze one night in the autumn is all that we ask in return for dazzling gifts. We borrow an hour one night in April; we pay it back with golden interest five months later."
    —Winston Churchill

"Daylight time, a monstrosity in timekeeping."
    —Harry Truman

"It seems very strange . . . that in the course of the world's history so obvious an improvement should never have been adopted. . . . The next generation of Britishers would be the better for having had this extra hour of daylight in their childhood."
    —Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"I get up late, I have to wait,
Can't keep it straight, who did he hate
I mean the man who first thought up Daylight Saving Time."

    —"Grandpa" Jones, Grand Ole Opry


Benjamin Franklin was astonished.

"An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning," he wrote in a letter to the Journal de Paris, "when I was surprised to find my room filled with light. I imagined at first that a number of lamps had been brought into the room; but rubbing my eyes I perceived the light came in at the windows."

The year was 1784, and the seventy-eight-year-old Franklinstatesman, author, scientistwas living in Paris while serving as U.S. Minister to France. His attendant had forgotten to close the shutters the previous evening, and when Franklin saw the sunlight streaming through his windows, he checked his watch. It was just six o’clock in the morning.

"Still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early," Franklin continued, "I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for the sun’s rising on that day."

Franklin’s discovery led to "several serious and important reflections." Had he risen at noon as usual, he would have slept through six hours of sunlight. In exchange, he would have been up six additional hours by candlelight that evening. Since candlelight was much more expensive than sunlight, Franklin’s "love of economy" induced him to "muster up what little arithmetic" he was master of to calculate how much the city of Paris could save by using sunshine instead of candles. . . .


Draft Status, Vietnam War: A man, born just after 12 midnight, DST, avoided the Vietnam War draft by arguing that under official standard time he was born the previous daywhich had a much higher draft lottery number.

Riots: Patrons of bars that stay open past 2 a.m. lose one hour of drinking time on the day when DST springs forward one hour. This indignity has led to riots, such as in Athens, Ohio, site of Ohio University.

Amtrak: To keep to published timetables, trains cannot leave a station before the scheduled time. So when the clocks fall back one hour in the autumn, all Amtrak trains in the United States that are running on time stop at 2 A.M. and wait one hour before resuming. Overnight passengers are often surprised to find their train at a dead stop and their travel time an hour longer than expected. At the spring DST time change, trains instantaneously become an hour behind schedule at 2 A.M., but they just keep going and do their best to make up the time.

Antarctica: In Antarctica, where there is no daylight in the winter and months of twenty-four-hour daylight in the summer, many research stations still observe daylight saving time anyway—to keep the same time as their supply stations in New Zealand.

Violent Crime: A study by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that crime was consistently less during periods of DST than during comparable standard time periods. Data for one city showed violent crime down 10 to 13%.

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