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Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0609600764
ISBN-10: 0609600761
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 Library Journal

Gould is the latest?though certainly not the last?thinker to publish his ruminations on the coming millennium. Unlike others, he spares readers the standard litany of predictions and rallying cries to embrace the future. Instead, in three essays entitled "What?," "When?," and "Why?," Gould wryly analyzes why humans are so fascinated by the year 2000. It is no great revelation that millennial passions are fueled in part by apocalyptic yearnings as well as by an innate human compulsion to measure and organize time, but, as always, Gould puts his own clever spin on these observations. Hard-core fans may be disappointed, for this book contains more religion and numerology than science. Any book by Gould will generate demand, but while this one is witty and entertaining, it is not especially illuminating. An optional purchase.
-?Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, Fla.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 190 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1st edition (September 16, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609600761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609600764
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,157,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Whatever your opinion about the Millennium, this book will give you some facts to fill in the blanks of your knowledge. Gould is expert at this sort of explanation and at backing up his opinion with reason.
It's well written, enjoyable and even surprisingly heart-warming in parts.
Gould's opinion will be disappointing to all those people who feel that if something arbitrary was held true by experts in the past, we must follow it to the letter forevermore. His opinion will be refreshing to those who want to know WHY, WHAT, and WHEN and to those who would celebrate while the red-faced sticklers grumble.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One of the most thoughtful books I have read. It is not easy, breezy reading. You will have to read several sentences a couple of times to understand Gould's points. But it is very thought provoking and change my entire notion of time.
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Format: Hardcover
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) wrote many other important books, such as Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, The Flamingo's Smile, Bully for Brontosaurus, Eight Little Piggies, Dinosaur in a Haystack, Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms, The Lying Stones Of Marrakech, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1997 book, "I began to think about this book during the first week of January 1950. I was eight years old, and a good part of my life revolved around the simple pleasures of weekly rituals... The weekly arrival of Life magazine...
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Format: Hardcover
I love Gould's essays. I hate Gould's self-indulgence. Gould always has something interesting to say, and this book is no exception. But he needs an editor who isn't overawed.
As in his delightful collections of essays, Gould finds the excitement in interesting tidbits and magnifies them in an interesting way. In Questioning the Millennium ("two n's," Gould reminds us with characteristic pedantry but an unnecessary apostrophe), we learn not only about the never-ending conflict over when the century ends (Gould claims to take no side, although he really does), but also about a wealth of millenarian trivia (only one n here). It's interesting trivia - little pieces of history that, as Gould notes, we always mean to look up but never do. He details apocalyptic visions of the millennium, the change from Julian to Gregorian calendars, and nature's frustrating imprecision - all worthy subjects.
Unfortunately, the inherent interest of these topics is somewhat compromised by Gould's ever-present reminders that he really, truly is an Essayist - which, to him, means someone who likes to advertise his vocabulary and seeks admiration of his ability to turn a neat phrase. Problem is, sometimes he gets a little lost in his own self-wonder. Several times, I had to look back to pick up a thread of thought I figured I must have missed - only to find it absent. I like stylish writing, but I don't like writing that calls attention to itself. Gould's writing does, and it wears thin.
But Gould nevertheless has a truly original mind, and I love how he thinks. It's worth trudging through a book that, like many of his essays, is a little too long and a little too cute to get the benefit of his wonderful thinking.
One other thing. The book ends on a beautiful note, but it's essential to build up to it. Don't skip ahead.
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Format: Hardcover
I like Gould's writing and his thinking, on the occasions he thinks. But he, like too many science essayists, gives into an urge to emote and to put aside that vaunted rationalism. Instead, he irrationally sides with popular opinion on when the new millennium began and then tells a somewhat moving but totally irrelevant story about a mentally handicapped young man who can calculate what day of the week a day came out. He also indulges, less than usual, in his dislike of religion.
As a stylist, Gould is among the best in the world of science. As a thinker, he's someone to reckon with. But as a total writer, he needs a bit of help. Still, this is a good history lesson.
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