Book Review: Calendar

Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle To Determine A True And Accurate Year, by David Ewing Duncan

Given the track record of the person who loaned this book to me [1], it was likely that this book was going to have a provocative topic but be written with an enjoyable prose style. That is precisely what is to be found as well. It is also very clear that my friend reads books with a different mindset than I do; this is not a bad thing (it does provide for fascinating comparative reviews), but it does mean that books that he likes for entirely just reasons (such as, with this book, some great quotes that show how the Catholic church tampered with the biblical calendar) are books that I will find greatly bothersome for different reasons. This is a book about a subject I care a great deal about [2] and it just so happens that the author and I are on just about the opposite side of nearly all of the calendar issues that this author discusses with a great deal of rhetorical flair but also with a few other qualities I find less laudable and praiseworthy.

At its core, this is a book that masquerades as a balanced and scholarly popular work of history seeking to uncover the way in which mankind has sought to accurately determine the length of a year. The historical accounts given are told with a fair amount of humor and a certain amount of research (the author tends to discount the early nature of understanding of calendar cycles and intercalinary years, ascribing such an understanding falsely to the Greeks and not to the Hebrews or even the Babylonians, who were more advanced in such matters), but also with a very biased political and cultural viewpoint that continually offends those who are on the opposite side of different viewpoints to his own. It is this awareness of the author’s lack of respect and justice in his accounts that makes this book a propaganda effort rather than a legitimate history.

The ways that this book offends are legion. For one, it is written by someone who has no real respect for religious standards of time, no interest at all in lunar solar calendars whose contempt for any kind of conservative religious belief systems is massive and omnipresent in the text (this is true whether he is talking about Christians or Muslims), nor showing any understanding of why cultures would wish to retain some distinctive qualities in calendar systems as well as measurements. The author shows himself to be in favor of abandoning the seven day week in favor of more “decimal” standards of time like those of the French Revolution, and entirely unsympathetic with the desire to start the year at a reasonable time, like the Spring. There are a lot of fallacies to be found in this book’s presentation of people, which is definitely biased in favor of those who share a contempt for others and a certain narrow arrogance in unaided human reasoning, and which makes all kind of anachronistic judgments of others while dismissing the moral judgments of historical figures.

If one can dismiss the snarky tone of the book, and its immensely biased approach, there is a certain level of enjoyment that one can gain from this book on some narrow technical grounds. It is witty, conversational, sort of like a well-meaning but offensive person who has no idea just how much you are bothered by his conversation because you smile politely and are actually somewhat happy when he finally closes, as this author does, with a statement like the following on page 301: “And now I have to go, because I am out of time,” to which the reader is likely to say politely, “I thought he would never shut up,” with a firm intention to never wish for another conversation with that person ever again. It is a sentiment I can relate to all too well.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: Calendar

  1. Pingback: Wheel In The Sky | Edge Induced Cohesion

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