I haven't reviewed any books on Amazon for years, but thought it was a shame that Koslofsky's masterful history of the night ("N-i-g-h-t night", I would find myself explaining to friends, as I cited yet more nuggets from the book for them) has only three stars. This is a brilliant book that well deserved to win the Longman-History Today prize, and I enjoyed it as much as I could have hoped for.
Is it difficult? In a couple of sections towards the end it does become a bit social-sciency - and I'm not sure it's a huge loss that drunken violence and robbery was forced out of the public sphere at night during the 17th-18th century - but this does not reflect the majority of the book. It is not quite as readable as a straightforward narrative history, but it's hardly the sort of dense academic text of which you can manage no more than a page a day.
Is it a dry work? Not at all - one professional reviewer remarked (I think it was in the BBC history magazine), there is a fascinating fact on almost every page.
This is not really a narrative history, but has more of a narrative than you might expect. Essentially, the upheavals of the Reformation undermine the old medieval contrast of night=bad, day=good (leading to some fine mystical theology); meanwhile the secular rulers try and demonstrate their power by lighting up the night; 'nightlife' then spreads from the aristocrats to the middle-classes, who use this newly available time and space to invent the Enlightenment and science and Blackadder the Third. At the same time, the rural night is harder to conquer, and older customs and attitudes survive (although you might want to keep out of the forrest after sun-down...)
At the same time, the world is not that neat, and some 'threads' of the story are left
But the joy of the book is in the details:
-how 'evidence' of witchcraft began with reflections of folk practices -how theology discovered the positive use of darkness -the domesticated darkness of the baroque theatre -links between the latter and portrayals of the Restoration -baroque manipulation of light and darkness and royal imagery -the origins of nightlife -policing the night (and clearing it of troublemakers like students!) -sex and courting in rural 17th century Europe
If Jorge Luis Borges were alive, he would have loved this book!
This book, "Evening's Empire" was a terrible disappointment. After the review in History Today I expected a really interesting book. It turned out to be a disertation...poorly written and with no clear line of thought. Very disapointing!
This is a very insightful and unusual book about changing attitudes to the night in Europe between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. I found the sections on the night at court, the rise of street lighting, the colonisation of the urban night, and the attempts to colonise the rural night particularly interesting. The ironic attachment of organised religion to ghosts and witches - because scepticism of these might lead to atheism - is also well laid out. The book combines narrative and anecdote with some fairly hefty analysis, which is where things can get tough.
Koslofsky makes few concessions to the casual reader, making regular use of academic terminology without any explanation or simplification to assist the non-expert. Key concepts are introduced with a few pithy sentences - which must be great if you are a historian but often left me floundering and in need of further elaboration. This can make the book somewhat hard going, especially in the sections on religious attitudes to the night and 'darkness and the enlightenment'. At times, it feels as though the book is aimed entirely at an academic readership and is not meant for the general reader at all. References to other studies can be confusing, as it is often not clear (to this layman) whether the author is referring to a contemporaneous or modern view. There is also a fair bit of repetition, which makes me wonder whether this was originally a series of separate essays that have been stitched together.
Still, this is worth a look if you want a different perspective on the life of people living in the early modern period. Just don't expect to have your hand held.
This history book is laid out with chapter-summaries at the beginning of each chapter, making it easy for you to find a particular topic or reference.It's nicely illustrated , and very readable( mostly) but is just a wee bit too pedantic in places for the general reader . A version without the notes would probably sell well!