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At Day's Close: A History of Nighttime

A. Roger Ekirch

10 Reviews

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Prose: non-fiction, History, General & world history, Social & cultural history

A fascinating and colourful social history of the nighttime in the pre-Industrial era.

AT DAY'S CLOSE charts a fresh realm of Western culture, nocturnal life from the late medieval period to the Industrial revolution. The book focuses on the cadences of daily life, investigating nighttime in its own right and resurrecting a rich and complex universe in which persons passed nearly half of their lives - a world, long-lost to historians, of blanket fairs, night freaks, and curtain lectures, of sun-suckers, moon-cursers and night-kings. It is not only the vocabulary that has disappeared, AT DAY'S CLOSE will restitute many facts which have been either lost or forgotten. It is a significant and newsworthy contribution to social history, filled with substantial research, stories and new discoveries.

Ekirch uses a wide range of sources to reconstruct how the night was lived in the past : travel accounts, memoirs, letters, poems, plays, court records, coroner's reports, depositions and laws dealing with curfews, crime and lighting. He has analysed working-class autobiographies, proverbs, nursery rhymes, ballads and sermons, and folklore, as well as consulting medical, psychological and anthropological papers.

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Praise for At Day's Close: A History of Nighttime

  • Ekirch's profound understanding of the period provides such enlightening details...this engrossing book illuminate[s] the darker recesses of the past. - SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (19.6.05) - Philip Hoare

  • Ekirch's absorbing history reveals an alternative universe shaped by real and imaginary perils. - SUNDAY TIMES (23/4/06)

  • [a] comprehensive acount of nightlife in Britain, Europe and America before the advent of bright artificial light, bursting with esoteric and well-sourced information about everything from candles and curfews to church bells and chamber pots...[an] extraordinary book. - EVENING STANDARD (20.6.05) - Johnathan Ree

  • His book reads like a huge card-index of nocturnal thoughts and incidents , gathered from 20 years of combing through court records, diaries, meditations and travellers' accounts from all over Europe and colonial America. To an extent it is a record of human helplessness and ignorance - a world well lost. - SUNDAY TIMES (26.6.05) - John Carey

  • This enlightening book ... is one of the most fascinating and rewarding literary experiences you are likely to discover this year. - HERTS & ESSEX OBSERVER (11/5/06)

  • Wonderful... Ekirch spares no pains to rediscover the lost world of the dark. ... A book that can't be summarised but must be experienced. - LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS (9/3/06) - David Wootton

  • Night-time has been curiously ignored by social historians. This fine book corrects that lack. ... Entertaining and informative, this book is also challenging. - THE TIMES (25/3/06)

  • ...there are so many good stories here which do not usually find themselves between the same covers...Ekirch has compiled in a great tradition. - LITERARY REVIEW (June 2005) - Jonathan Mirsky

  • Just the sort of browsable treat guaranteed to cause insomnia. - THE SCOTSMAN (29/4/06)

  • a triumph of social history. Almost every page contains something to surprise the reader...the great achievement of At Day's Close is precisely its invasion of privacy: it shines a torch through the curtains of our ancestors and gives us a glimpse of them at their most vulnerable. Watching them blink back is one fo the most enjoyable lit

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A. Roger Ekirch

Professor A. Roger Ekirch was born in 1950 in America. He teaches at Virginia Tech. On the basis of his research into the nighttime, Ekirch was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.