Stephen Jay Gould was one of the most influential evolutionary biologists and most acclaimed science essayists of the 20th century. He died in May 2002. He was the author of numerous books, including The Lying Stones of Marrakech and Questioning the Millennium.
Even Gould has millennial fever, and he has three questions: what exactly does the concept of "millennium" mean, when does the new one really start, and why are we so fascinated by it all?
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.)
"Gould poses three questions about the millennium in this delicious science-historical jeu d'esprit. . . . [This] may be the most enjoyable millennium book of the second millennium."
"With a humorous Everyman approach, Gould juggles a mind-boggling array of various calendrical concepts as he explains why creating a reliable calendar was one of man's greatest struggles. Whether nailing down the precise date of the birth of Christ or airing his suspicion that God is a New York Yankees fan, Gould teaches rather than preaches."
-- Entertainment Weekly
"Gould eloquently charts . . . our stubborn, foolish, and occasionally glorious efforts, through science, religion, and philosophy, to continue to try to understand."
-- New York Times
"In Questioning the Millennium, a collection of three witty and erudite essays . . . 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 and Chronicle
"However out-of-left-field the subject, [Gould] still manages to charm with characteristically energetic, down-to-earth lucidity. Gently iconoclastic, always illuminating essays from the science writer whose prose can bring to life not only theories but even the fossils themselves."
-- Kirkus Reviews