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Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown - Hardcover

 
9780609600764: Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown
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In Questioning the Millennium, Stephen Jay Gould applies his wit and erudition to one of today's most pressing subjects:  the significance 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, in the year 2000 or 2001?  

Finally, why must our calendars be so complex, leading to our search for arbitrary regularity, including a fascination with millennia?
As always, Gould brings into his essays a wide range of compelling historical and scientific fact, including a brief history of millennia 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 the mirror up to our millennial passions to reveal our foibles, absurdities, and uniqueness - in other words, our humanity.

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Review:
In this slender volume, Stephen Jay Gould addresses three questions about the millennium with his typical combination of erudition, warmth, and whimsy: As a calendrical event, what is the concept of a millennium and how has its meaning shifted over time? How did the projection of Christ's 1,000-year reign become a secular measure? And when exactly will the millennium begin--January 1, 2000, or January 2, 2001?

"Our urge to know is so great, but our common errors cut so deep. You just gotta love us," he states disarmingly in the preface. "And you gotta view misguided millennial passion as a primary example of our uniqueness and our absurdity--in other words, of our humanity." Gould's own curiosity about time and calendars was triggered by a 1950 issue of Life magazine, which cut the century in half with its evaluation of what had happened and its prediction of things to come, propelling his third-grade mind to the year 2000. In Questioning the Millennium, Gould promises to make no predictions (other than "an orgy of millennial books"); court no millennial epiphanies; and put forth no theories on the collective angst that typically accompanies a century's end. Instead, he answers the millennial questions which, for him, represent the intersection of undeniable reality (i.e., natural fact) and human interpretation. Gould's questions and learned answers, weaving many historical and scientific facts, are a loving inquiry into the human need for order in a vast and teeming universe.

From the Back Cover:
"Stephen Jay Gould's slim and attractive meditation, Questioning the Millennium, is a trip to the beach. Mr. Gould focuses his wit and style on matters of definition and calculation of the millennium and on their enduring fascination"
-- Robert Eisner, New York Times Book Review

"In Questioning the Millennium, a collection of three witty and erudite essays bearing the catchy journalistic titles "What?" "When?" and "Why?," the noted paleontologist and science popularizer ponders the meaning of the upcoming calendar hoopla. As always, he is irreverent, idiosyncratic and original"
--San Francisco Examiner

"Questioning the Millennium. . . beguiles and entertains, even as it teaches us to reconsider our preconceptions about the natural world. Mr. Gould eloquently charts both those pitfalls to knowledge and our stubborn, foolish and occasionally glorious efforts, though science, religion and philosophy, to continue to try to understand"
-- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"In Stephen Jay Gould's recent book Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown, the subtitle says it all. The year 2000 is both precise and arbitrary, in the same way that a repeat of 1900 would be."
--Fred Moramarco, Newsweek

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  • PublisherHarmony
  • Publication date1997
  • ISBN 10 0609600761
  • ISBN 13 9780609600764
  • BindingHardcover
  • Edition number1
  • Number of pages190
  • Rating

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