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THE YEAR 1000 by Robert Lacey

THE YEAR 1000

What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium

By Robert Lacey (Author) , Danny Danziger (Author)

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1999
ISBN: 0-316-55840-0
Publisher: Little, Brown

An amusing, though lightweight, examination of English life in the year 1000. With millennial fever gripping the publishing world, biographer Lacey (Grace, 1994, etc.) and London Independent journalist Danziger bring us back 1,000 years. Using a variety of sources, including the writings of the Venerable Bede, the Julius Work Calendar, and Beowulf, the authors probe topics as varied as Viking military strategy, coin-making, the Easter feast, and the development of English. It’s clear that Christianity permeated almost every aspect of daily life: “This was an age of faith. People believed as fervently in the powers of saints’ bones as many today believe that wheat bran or jogging or psychoanalysis can increase the sum of human happiness.” Christian monks preserved ancient knowledge by painstakingly transcribing Greek and Roman texts; they also established schools and hospitals. The Church’s political power rivaled the state’s, as both institutions promoted reverence for authority. Gerbert of Aurillac, the pope sitting in Rome at the millennium, was a ruthless political infighter and a brilliant scholar who helped popularize the abacus. The authors dub him, somewhat glibly, “the first millennium’s Bill Gates.” The book possesses a wide-ranging, quickly shifting focus that is alternately charming and exasperating. Like hummingbirds, the authors never spend much time on any one subject. For example, they’ll begin a chapter by discussing bread-making, then shift to the problems posed by insects, before finishing with the horrors of medieval medicine (leeches, bloodletting, etc.). While they lack the concentrated approach of historians, they’re quite entertaining. The book is weakest, however, when it tries to draw parallels between the year 1000 and today. It’s more than silly, for example, when they refer to the medicinal herb agrimony as “the Viagra of the year 1000.” A diverting and accessible read, though hardly noteworthy scholarship. Like a box of chocolates, it’s appetizing fun without much nutritional value. (13 b&w illustrations) (Radio satellite tour)