The turn of the millennium (the last millennium, that is) in England was an interesting world to behold -- the country was struggling toward unity, but still wary of invaders from across the various seas (an invasion trend that would stop less than 100 years after the turn of the millennium). The typical Englishman was well-fed, but the kinds of food might astound modern readers; when the people got indigestion back then, medical treatments were even more bizarre.
Into the world, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger venture with humour and insight. Lacey and Danziger, established writers in related topics, have traced a journey through history by tracing the typical life during a year at the turn of the year 1000, through the Julius Work Calendar, on reserve at the British Library, lost for a time due to miscategorisation. The authors (Lacey and Danziger) makes use of this interesting framework of month-by-month chronicling to develop the details of daily life and work in England in the year 1000.
The different months take the paradigm for different topics -- February looks at geography; August looks at medicine (and the frequency of flies); November looks at the issues of gender relationships. Among the fascinating facts that come out in the analysis are the kinds of cyclical patterns that occur in history --Lacey and Danziger point out that under Canute, an unfaithful wife would meet with a horrible fate, but that legislation died with him, until the Commonwealth period several hundred years later, when it would be revived.
The authors do not stick exclusively to English shores -- they discuss the general world situation, as it would impact English development. Lacey and Danziger close the year and discussion with the figure of Gerbert, who would become pope Sylvester II, having been the scholar of note under the Ottos, successors of Charlemagne. His strange innovations, like prefering Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) to Roman numerals, introducing 'exotic' machines like an abacus to the world made him suspect -- however, Lacey and Danziger refer to him as the first millennium's Bill Gates, revolutionising computational power for good and forever.
Lacey and Danziger warn against the 'snobbery of chronology', as C.S. Lewis terms it -- we don't necessarily know better or live better than our ancestors, and sometimes our distorted views of the past much be called into check. For example, it is commonly held that people today are taller than people in the past; while this trend is true over the past several generations, prior to that, it is not true -- the average Englishman today is only slightly taller than the average Englishman of the year 1000.
From riddles and games for a dark and stormy night (playing cards would not be invented for several hundred years) to the origins of serfdom and family life, this is a fascinating text.