Questioning the millennium : a rationalist's guide to a precisely arbitrary countdown

by Stephen Jay Gould

Hardcover, 1997




New York : Harmony Books, c1997.


In 1950 at age eight, prompted by an issue of Life magazine marking the century's midpoint, Stephen Jay Gould started thinking about the approaching turn of the millennium. In this beautiful inquiry into time and its milestones, he shares his interest and insights with his readers. Refreshingly reasoned, erudite, and absorbing, the book asks and answers the three major questions that define the approaching calendrical event. First, what exactly is this concept of a millennium and how has its meaning shifted? How did the name for a future thousand-year reign of Christ on earth get transferred to the passage of a secular period of a thousand years in current human history? When does the new millennium begin: January 1, 2000, or January 1, 2001? (Although seemingly trivial, the debate over this issue tells an intriguing story about the cultural history of the twentieth century.) Finally, why must our calendars be so complex, leading to our search for arbitrary regularity, including a fascination with millennia?… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Ease shows the Master's hand. Questioning the Millennium reads very easily, and is quite a light read. Whether it is worth to have it book length, is questionable. I would rather have it a bit shorter than the current 190 pp. Some parts of the book feel a bit "stretched" but never strained. There is some repetition, which could have been trimmed, and the ease with which it is written makes it at bit puffed up, but all the extra words add to readability.

This long essay was originally published in 1997, well before the Millennium Madness really began, and no attention is paid to what subsequently became known as the Millennium Bug.

Although the millennium moment now lies more than a decade behind us, it is still worthwhile to read this essay, as the discussion is not only about time, calendars and the millennium, but explores themes of apocalypse, armageddon and the destruction of the world and the postponement thereof. The confusion about the millennium moment, and what exactly counts as the millennium, that is not just the end, but the also especially beginning of the millennium, make the book much less ephemeral than expected. Phenomena such as (American) preachers predicting the end of the world are put in a clear perspective, not forgetting the Mayan calendar.
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
Gould wrote this book in response to the panic about the approaching millennium. He dispassionately and eloquently dissects the various factions that promoted the idea of the end of the world - millenniarians. A little bit dated once the millennium passed, but still good reading.
LibraryThing member questbird
A small book about the follies and fascinations of calendrics, especially as they pertain to the (then) upcoming millennium. Gould explains the millennial fascination from a Christian and secular point of view. He delves into the oddities of calendars, which amuse him as a very human attempt to impose order on Nature -- a Nature which refuses to use even numbers in its cycles of days, lunations and years.… (more)
LibraryThing member fist
So I read this about 15 years too late, since Stephen Jay Gould wrote this during the lead-up to the the year 2000. But even with such a delay, it remains an unmitigated pleasure to savour the intelligence and clarity of this author, as he debunks myths and superstitions around calendrics in razor-sharp prose.



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