At Day's Close: Night in Times Past

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"Remarkable….Ekirch has emptied night's pockets, and laid the contents out before us."—Arthur Krystal, The New Yorker
Bringing light to the shadows of history through a "rich weave of citation and archival evidence" (Publishers Weekly), scholar A. Roger Ekirch illuminates the aspects of life most often overlooked by other historians—those that unfold at night. In this "triumph of social history" (Mail on Sunday), Ekirch's "enthralling anthropology" (Harper's) exposes the ...

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"Remarkable….Ekirch has emptied night's pockets, and laid the contents out before us."—Arthur Krystal, The New Yorker
Bringing light to the shadows of history through a "rich weave of citation and archival evidence" (Publishers Weekly), scholar A. Roger Ekirch illuminates the aspects of life most often overlooked by other historians—those that unfold at night. In this "triumph of social history" (Mail on Sunday), Ekirch's "enthralling anthropology" (Harper's) exposes the nightlife that spawned a distinct culture and a refuge from daily life.
Fear of crime, of fire, and of the supernatural; the importance of moonlight; the increased incidence of sickness and death at night; evening gatherings to spin wool and stories; masqued balls; inns, taverns, and brothels; the strategies of thieves, assassins, and conspirators; the protective uses of incantations, meditations, and prayers; the nature of our predecessors' sleep and dreams—Ekirch reveals all these and more in his "monumental study" (The Nation) of sociocultural history, "maintaining throughout an infectious sense of wonder" (Booklist).

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
It's been thus for so many generations that we take it for granted: Night is when we go out, when we entertain, when we read, when -- of course -- we sleep. Yet in the long span of human history this is a relatively recent development. Not until "the period from 1730 to 1830," Ekirch argues in this interesting, original book, did the Western world undergo "such a sustained assault upon the nocturnal realm," and not until the 20th century and its near-universal use of artificial light did nighttime become what we know now. So At Day's Close is uncommonly welcome, for it covers ground that just about all others have ignored.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Engrossing, leisurely paced and richly researched, this history finds Ekirch reminding us of how preindustrial Westerners lived during the nocturnal hours, when most were plunged into almost total darkness. By describing how that darkness spelled heightened risk-of stumbles, drowning, fires and other dangers-Ekirch accounts for the traditional association of nighttime with fear and suspicion, illuminating the foundations of popular beliefs in satanic forces and the occult. He also describes how the night literally provided a cloak of darkness for crimes and insurrections, and how fear of the night sometimes led to racist blame and accusation. A professor of history at Virginia Tech, Ekirch ranges across the archives of Europe and early colonial America to paint a portrait of how the forces of law and order operated at night, and he provides fascinating insight into nocturnal labor-of masons, carpenters, bakers, glassmakers and iron smelters, among many others. The hardest nocturnal workers were women, Ekirch writes, doing laundry after a full day's domestic work. Ekirch also evokes benign nighttime activities, such as drinking and alehouse camaraderie; the thrill of aristocratic masquerades; the merrymaking of harvest suppers and dances. A rich weave of citation and archival evidence, Ekirch's narrative is rooted in the material realities of the past, evoking a bygone world of extreme physicality and preindustrial survival stratagems. 8 pages of color and 60 b&w illus. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Before the Industrial Revolution, the daily departure of the sun had effects on people far different from those we experience in our own brightly illuminated age. Why? A first-time author explains. Here, Ekirch (History/Virginia Tech) argues-and persuasively demonstrates-that darkness in earlier eras fostered "a distinct culture with many of its own customs and rituals." And he should know. He's researched his subject thoroughly (the endnotes run to 109 pages), trying with moderate success to cram into categories all he's discovered. Unquestionably, Ekirch gives us a vast number of arresting details: Earlier generations, for example, believed that noxious vapors came with night; they didn't admire sunsets; hanging the hearts of pigs over the hearth kept demons out of the chimney; humans have better night vision than most other animals; Pepys' wife (worried about his carnal dreams) would periodically inspect his penis during his sleep; and some early thinkers believed sleep was caused by fumes rising to the brain from the belly of the sleeper. But there are also a number of observations that seem too patent for the attention Ekirch gives them. He tells us that dark was more dangerous than light, that the night facilitated storytelling, that people drank a lot, that lovers and criminals used the cover of darkness, that some people had bad dreams, that bundling was fun, that chamber pots could smell bad. Nonetheless, he's done a creditable job of cataloguing the activities of the night-from nightwatching (a profession, he quips, probably older than prostitution) to enjoying masquerades to dung-burning to praying. He shows, too, that informal youth gangs sometimes ruled the dark streets in AClockwork Orange fashion, and he reveals that sleeping the entire night through was a rarity in an earlier age. Too many potential dangers (fire!), suspicious sounds, foul odors, strange bedfellows and inconsistent diets routinely ruined rest. A fascinating tale but, unfortunately, often in need of more graceful telling. (60 b&w illustrations, 8 pp. color illustrations, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393329018
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/2/2006
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 161,859
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

A. Roger Ekirch is a professor of history at Virginia Tech and the award-winning author of At Day’s Close and of Birthright. He lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2006

    Excellent cultural history

    This was a very original and readable investigation of the experiences of people with night in the early modern era. The night was feared for its demons, but was also a time when the usual daytime rules were set aside. Night was a Òseparate seasonÓ with rampant crime in some areas, fires, witches, work parties to spin wool and gossip, masked balls and night-cellars for midnight liaisons, the practice of bundling, are all discussed. Most interesting was the idea of the first and second sleep, the first beginning in exhaustion at sunset, followed by waking at midnight, for reflection, intimacy, and sometimes reading, followed by the second dreaming and deep sleep. This was an unusually readable and detailed social history, very recommendable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2015

    Things you may never have considered - a good read

    Ekirch explores in great deal how people lived in the absence of modern lighting, including cultural changes that occurred, the role of local authorities, etc. The book is very interesting and well written, although you may learn more about the subject than you thought necessary. But I do recommend it especially for those, like me, interested in history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2014

    Communication with our spacestation, The Arc

    * second level of our dropship. Life jackets and other typical life saving equipment can be found here. Remember this is a survival no advanced weaponry besides guns which r limited. *

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

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