Lost Worlds: How Our European Ancestors Coped with Everyday Life and Why Life Is So Hard Today

Arthur E. Inhof, Author, Arthur E. Imhof, Author, Thomas Robisheaux, Translator
Arthur E. Inhof, Author, Arthur E. Imhof, Author, Thomas Robisheaux, Translator University of Virginia Press $35 (199p) ISBN 978-0-8139-1659-0
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Using frequent shifts of focus and a freewheeling multidisciplinary approach, Swiss-born historian Imhof (In the Gallery of History) mixes European pre-industrial social history with a lament about modern life. Imhof, a professor at the Free University of Berlin, is on the firmest epistemological ground when describing the little world of German peasant Johannes Hooss (1670-1755), using maps and diagrams to bolster discussions of land-holding patterns and marriage options. Imhof argues that Central European peasant families coped with war, famine and plague by trying to achieve stability; they held on to their farms for up to 400 years and repeatedly used the same first names, even for several living siblings. Less convincing are his views on family planning, quality of home life and fear and anxiety, especially when the evidence is artwork from a later period or a reference to traumatic collective memory. As for comparisons with modern times, German peasants may have faced death calmly because of their Christian worldview and expectation of eternal life, but is it true that no one today ""can offer any guidance in how to die properly""? Does increased life expectancy really make our lives more interchangeable and monotonous? Imhof's charming style is not enough to persuade readers that they've lost more than they've gained by being born in this century. (Oct.)
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