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The Year 1000

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The Year 1000
What Life was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium. By Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. (Back Bay Books: 2000. Pg. 240.) ISBN: 0316511579

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 7, 2002

Ever wonder what life was like in England at the turn of the first millennium? Well wonder no more. Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger have written a fascinating book, The Year 1000 that clearly describes life in England in the year 1000. Extremely easy to read, this compelling history is based upon historical evidence garnered from historic documents, literature, and archaeological excavations. Comprehensive in scope, this book covers just about everything from internal parasites to the organizational structure of monasteries.

The foundation of this book is the Julius Work Calendar that was crafted sometime around the year 1020. This calendar includes not only calendric information, but also includes a wide range of sketches that depict scenes of everyday life, geared toward each particular month. Building their narrative around this calendar, the authors have divided this imaginative book into monthly sections. Working systematically through the year, they illustrate what life would have been like in each period - for high and low borne alike. As well, they use this framework as a jumping off point from which to delve into other matters of interest, such as how saints are created, and the level, or lack thereof, of scientific knowledge in the year 1000.

Topics covered in The Year 1000 included the role of women in English society, religious life, clothing, the industries that existed, the impact of Viking raids, sanitary habits or lack thereof, vermin, the foods grown and eaten, warfare, slavery, the interaction of paganism with Christianity, an overview of the political structure and establishment, money - how it was used and made, and the educational and literary exploits of the nation. Never shirking from the 'icky' aspects of ancient life, the authors candidly explore the excrement of the Englishmen from the year 1000, and how it differs from that of the modern Englishman. They also look at the various medical ills that plagued these ancient islanders, including one form of parasites that could unexpectedly exit the body via the eyes!

In making this history accessible to readers of all ages, the authors have taken the liberty of comparing historical figures to their modern equivalent. This enables the modern reader to better understand the mind set and role played by these individuals. For example, Wulfstan of York, an English churchman, is compared to Billy Graham, both in terms of preaching style and religious role.

This history offers a little something for everyone. For students, it offers a vivid snapshot of what life in 1000 was like, as well as illustrating just how much life has changed. For example, in the year 1000 sugar was yet unknown in England! The general reader will be mesmerized by the uniqueness of the narrative and vast store of information that is effortless conveyed. And, for the scholar, this book will provide a basis for further study and will serve as a fine example of how to write a book for a diverse audience that is both compelling and informative. In short, I highly recommend The Year 1000 to anyone interested in history, culture, or simply an intriguing read...

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