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

by Stephen Jay Gould

Hardcover, 1997

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Harmony Books, c1997.

Description

In this new edition of Questioning the Millennium, best-selling author Stephen Jay Gould applies his wit and erudition to one of today's most pressing subjects: the significance of the millennium. 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 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 Jesus 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 really 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.) And why must our calendars be so complex, leading to our search for arbitrary regularity, including a fascination with millennia? This revised edition begins with a new and extensive preface on a key subject not treated in the original version. As always, Gould brings into his essays a wide range of compelling historical and scientific fact, including a brief history of millennial fevers, calendrical traditions, and idiosyncrasies from around the world; the story of a sixth-century monk whose errors in chronology plague us even today; and the heroism of a young autistic man who has developed the extraordinary ability to calculate dates deep into the past and the future. Ranging over a wide terrain of phenomena--from the arbitrary regularities of human calendars to the unpredictability of nature, from the vagaries of pop culture to the birth of Christ--Stephen Jay Gould holds up the mirror to our millennial passions to reveal our foibles, absurdities, and uniqueness--in other words, our humanity. "From the Hardcover edition."… (more)

User reviews

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
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razor-sharp prose.
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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
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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 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
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impose order on Nature -- a Nature which refuses to use even numbers in its cycles of days, lunations and years.
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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 JBD1
Gould's musing on various aspects of the millennium. Fine, but nothing particularly earth-shattering.

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