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Questioning the Millennium

A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown

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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.

From Publishers Weekly

Sep 01, 1997 – With no apologies to the artist formerly known as Prince, Gould (Full House, etc.) probably won't "party like it's 1999" in 1999. And why should he? In this fascinating, often lighthearted treatise, the Harvard paleontologist explains that the date is, at best, arbitrary. Gould explores the evolution and anomalies of our present-day calendar and offers an intriguing survey of millennial, apocalyptic crazes throughout history. This may sound dull, but it's not. Although lacking the inherent high drama of an apocalypse, Gould's calendrical work is a lively inquiry into the most basic of human traits--the desire to impose order through a clearly defined, if somewhat flawed, system, and then to imbue that system with cosmic significance. Gould also includes background on the current debate over whether the 21st century actually begins in 2000 or 2001. The confusion, he reports, arises from the sixth-century monk who prepared the chronology and began with "year one," not "year zero," as the concept of zero was not yet developed. High culture, Gould says, won a decisive victory when January 1, 1901, was generally marked as the beginning of the 20th century, though according to the author such logic probably won't prevail at the dawn of the 21st century, due, at least in part, to popular culture and the mass merchandising of the millennium. "The old guard of Greenwich may pout to their heart's content," writes Gould, "but the world will rock and party on January 1, 2000."

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Questioning the Millennium
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Science & Nature
  • Published: Sep 16, 1997
  • Publisher: Crown/Archetype
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 224 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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