Brain Pickings

An Illustrated Visualization of What Happens on Earth in a Single Second


What a whale’s song has to do with the Helios II satellite and the beat of the pigmy shrew’s heart.

We’ve previously explored time and the scale of the universe, but what about the scale of time? Do we fully understand the 2.5 billion seconds most of us will experience in an average lifetime? That’s precisely what prolific science author and illustrator Steve Jenkins playfully probes in Just a Second (public library | IndieBound), a lovely and refreshing book for kids, doubling as a curious and enjoyable trivia compendium for grown-ups, and a fine addition to the year’s best children’s books. From the 5,085-foot water journey of a whale’s song to the 50 beats of a hummingbird’s wings to the 300-foot plunge of a peregrine falcon, the charmingly illustrated pages weave a kind of alternative metric system for telling time through the surprising things that happen in a single second — a measure that, as Jenkins points out, is a human invention.

The second doesn’t relate to any cycle in nature — it’s a human invention, and the shortest interval of time most of us use in our daily lives. The Babylonians came up with the idea of the second about 4,000 years ago, but they had no way to measure such a short interval of time.”

As with Jenkins’ other children’s books, there is a palpable environmental undercurrent propelled by profound awe for Earth’s creatures.

By the time you finished this book, Steve Jenkins had lived through 21,439 sunrises. If he’d been counting, he would have tallied more than two billion heartbeats.”

Charming and perspective-shifting, Just a Second is a worthy investment of a few hundred seconds in illumination that will last your entire 2.5 billion.

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