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

Stephen Jay Gould, Author Harmony $17.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-609-60076-4
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."" (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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