It was a Saturday night in October. I knew I was supposed to wait until 2 a.m. on Sunday, but I was tired, and no one else was likely to consult the kitchen clock before sunrise, so I turned back the time by one hour. And I realized I had no idea what I was doing.

And then I got obsessed with the uncanny idea that we can save energy, lives, and maybe our very souls with this loopy and entirely unscientific routine of falsifying our clocks, which has become the most persistent political controversy in American history.

Spring Forward is a social history and a true-to-life social comedy with Congress in the starring role, surrounded by a supporting cast of opportunistic ministers, movie moguls, stockbrokers, labor leaders, sports fanatics, and railroad execs. And it is a portrait of public policy in America—a boiling stew of unsubstantiated science, profiteering masked as piety, and mysteriously shifting time-zone boundaries.

For starters: Don’t blame the farmers. And don’t expect to save anything with daylight saving, which is actually a fantastically effective retail-spending plan.