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

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  373 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
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 thi
Kindle Edition, 190 pages
Published (first published 1997)
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Sep 28, 2007 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brief Gould book about the millenium. In structure, similar to other compilations of his previously published articles.

Gould's focus is on the millenium itself--not the psychology or sociology of our reactions to the millenium, but specfic calendrical, astronomical, and historical questions about the millenium. What are we talking about when we refer to 'the millennium'? How has the meaning of 'the millenium' evolved over time--how did the designation for a future, thousand-year reign of chri
Jul 21, 2012 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know, it's an excellent book. I gave it three stars instead of four or five merely because I find the subject only so interesting--especially a good twevle years past 2000.

Gould, however, is a brilliant writer. Not quite as funny or sardonic as Bill Bryson but far (far) more learned.

The ending is surprisingly--breathtakingly--touching. Gould is a incisive and snarky (while lucid and instructive) and maintains a tone of bemused detachment--right up until the book's last paragraph, in which
Mike Vasich
I am torn by this book. On the one hand, I've heard tons of great things about Gould that lead me to believe I would like his stuff. Unsurprisingly, the content was great and inline with my philosophy of rational discourse. There are good historical tidbits in here and the style is light and relatively easy going for the layman.

On the other hand, a lot of the writing seemed self-aggrandizing. I am in no way averse to big words, but Gould seemed to use them when more simple terms would have been
Lively and fun. Somewhat dated now, having been written before the turn of the new century, but still timely in that the phenomena Gould explores - of assigning significance things arbitrarily chosen by humans that have no natural root, such as the date and year of the millennium (another example could be political borders), and the fondness so many of us seem to have for melodramatic and apocalyptic predictions - will probably always be with us, though the specific manifestations change. As usu ...more
Nicholas Armstrong
For what this was, which is a book interested in science and in history and in academic study and thought, it is very, very good. I've never read, though I've heard much of, Stephen Jay Gould, and I must say that I'm rather impressed.

I'll admit, firstly, that the nature of the dialogue is one generally suited to academics, and one which many outside of that realm would find either hard to understand or irksome, perhaps both, but I can forgive Gould for this for how insightful the book is. Unlik
Louis Profeta
If you have heard Gould on TV this book is written just the way speaks, non-ending thoughts, fast paced, so you many times will read and re-examine many times. He's a genius instructor from Harvard.The vocabulary is basic, the ideas jam packed. One reference he made about dichotomies I will carry with me forever, it's a whole new way of thinking about our world, good scary but true and very much fun to think about.He says man is accustomed to two thinking of large issues in the form of 2's but t ...more
J. Alfred
I picked this up at a yard sale or something because I'm interested in theological questions. What I got was, instead, sociological, psychological, and historical looks at how people have viewed the theological questions in which I am interested. Very fun book; a great example of what I consider the most winning kind of humanism. There are a lot of shrug-and-smile lines about "what it means to be human" and things like that. Charming!
Dec 12, 2012 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It seems somewhat fitting that I finished this book on December 12, 2012 (12/12/12). I enjoy Dr Gould's book because of the combination of fact and wit. This one is no exception. What is a millennium? Why is measuring one so difficult? When is the end of the next one (writing from 1996)? These are fun questions to think about because there are no really correct answers. Strong arguments can be made for both dominant sides. I like to think that a new millennium starts every day, they just don't h ...more
May 14, 2016 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This 1997 volume from entertaining scientist Gould is a counterpart to the popular Y2K hysteria. Of course, almost 20 years later, we see nothing at all happened.

901 Sub-titled: "A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown". Examining religious and calendric implications of the year 2000-2001.
Jul 12, 2014 Filip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I read this about 15 years too late, since Stephen Jay Gould wrote this during the lead-up to the the year 2000. But even with such a delay, it remains an unmitigated pleasure to savour the intelligence and clarity of this author, as he debunks myths and superstitions around calendrics in razor-sharp prose.
Feb 11, 2012 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot of things from this book about how years are counted, from the reasons why it's not totally clear when each new millennium begins, to the shortcuts that you could use to figure out what day of the week you were born. It was fun to read a book that was written during that time when everyone was looking forward to the millennium b/c I remember what a big deal it seemed like. I also liked all the images of hell that are strewn throughout this book. There's so much going on in there- ...more
Anthony Cheng
Feb 20, 2014 Anthony Cheng rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun look at why our calendars are so messed up.
Jun 29, 2010 Janusz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

well, i hadn't previously known that there were two century rules for leap years! this was a light snack and put a few interesting details together.
other than that, i was by turns annoyed (at any suggestion that a 'year zero' would serve any purpose other than trivial aesthetics), vaguely disappointed (some apparent stabs at wit just didn't zing) and unimpressed. but i only grabbed it for a taste, anyway; it's shorter than any other book of his i've seen. not in a rush to put others at the to
Nicholas Whyte

A brief and reflective book by Gould, on the coming millennium as seen from 1997. He makes the entirely fair point that the year 2000 is a rather arbitrary human construct in the first place, and quotes approvingly his autistic son's ruling on whether or not the new century begins in 2000 or 2001: "In 2000, of course. The first decade had only nine years." Nothing much new for me but gould as ever tells it well.
Apr 13, 2011 Rae rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, 2011
Read only 11 years, 4 months and 13 days too late!

Actually, I've only owned this book for a year having bought it almost exactly one year ago. I really enjoyed all the history, math, and science Gould brought into the book. And now I know all kinds of random facts - such as the fact there was no year 0. (Zero, as a concept, had not yet been introduced to the west so the poor guy trying to figure out years went directly from 1BC to 1AD.)

There is a discussion about apocalyptic thinking in religion and in wider society. The debate about whether the millennium started on the 1st of January 2000 or 2001 is discussed. The difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars is explained really well. There are lots of interesting little insights in this book that make it interesting to read.
James Dixson
Jan 20, 2010 James Dixson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A short book on the history of the idea of the millenium and other "doomsday"/"day of judgement" mythologies.

What is interesting about this book (particularly reading before 2000) was how much of christian ritual had its origins in doomsday prediction and preparation and how frequent the theme reappears in christian tradition.

Iain Turnbull
A short book (or more accurately, a few long essays) about the millennium - or more specifically, the human obsession with calendrics, and how science ties in with religion and popular culture. A diverting enough read, but no earth-shattering revelations - just a jovial, meandering tour through the subject.
Andrew Durnion
Post December 31st 1999 the book still retains its ability to interest here and there, however, you'll have to wait until 2999 for it to regain its zeitgeist appeal first time round.
Jun 15, 2011 Marcus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very straight forward explanation about the human development if time keeping and the adjustments that were made up to the end of the 20th century.
Questioning the Millennium : A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown (Revised Edition) by Stephen Jay Gould (1999)
Jul 08, 2014 Kaethe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autism, nonfiction
ha! In your face, people who think that the arbitrary numbers we use have some kind of special meaning.
Fred Sampson
Clever, but ultimately disappointing because he gives in to popular thought. And no doubt sorely dated today.
Jul 31, 2009 Steven rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I know, I know.. I read this book in 2005... No, go ahead, get all of your laughs out. Go ahead, I'll wait.
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Stephen Jay Gould was a prominent American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Most of Gould's empirical research was on land snails. Gould
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