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To capture Kingwells work in a small space is difficult. With his long and drawn out explanations of why millennium is, for many, the beginning of the end, Kingw3ell states that “almost every century since the 1100’s has… brought increased anxiety…at its close.” Shortly after stating this, he goes on to describe many events in the past that support this statement. He talks of calendars and their significance in the past and relates them to those of today. For example Kingwell tells us that, “it wasn’t until the 1290’s…that the centuries began to take on the shape they have now for us.” He then adds that, “not until the 1690’s …people began to see themselves as products of a given century.” From these facts we could conclude that the millennium issue didn’t even occur to people until less than 500 years before it.
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In our lifetime whether we are 60 or 20yrs old, we have been in a kind of “training” for the millennium. Kingwell makes this clear many times. He talks about several religious groups who have awaited the millennium as Armageddon and the end. Either that or they see it as the beginning of the end. The “false prophet” David Koresh is mentioned several times in the book talking about peoples “desire for a leader” during the road to millennium. Kingwell believes that people are searching for knowledge in everything. He himself visited psychic fairs in an attempt to find something. What he found were all kinds of people buying into it, even one of his own students.
The book talks about our growing worldwide need for technology and how it will effect different people. Kingwell discusses the fascinating invention of the Internet and how it is segregating us further. He tells of an interview with Scott Adams who predicts that computers will be a major segregator for people in the new age, dividing those who can use them and those who cannot, the successes and those who fail. Dr. Kingwell poses the questions of computers and technology changing roles with people. When people become less and less valuable in the workplace and instead, computers, more efficient and with less maintenance, become all-powerful.
Kingwell also suggests that people feel trapped and confined within their bodies, he uses examples from the past and the present to describe how they have attempted to change this. He claims that in the past people sometimes used self-mutilation to prepare for Second Coming. When “in 1490’s Florence, Savonarola and his weepers lashed themselves in public…drawing their own blood” they pronounced that the end was near. Now, Kingwell says, that people are defacing and mutilating their bodies in an attempt to claim themselves as their own, as individual. The author describes tattoos as a reaction to society, an insult to conformity.
Kingwells book reveals many issues about the millennium and his seem to be mainly concerned with AIDS and Ebola and their taking over the world. Although he shares his ideas about their coming millennium, he does not come to any conclusions, leaving the reader with a variety of emotions and no real answers.
It is difficult to understand what Dr. Kingwells intentions were when he constructed this work. If his goal was to make any prediction for the future, he did not do much in the way of that. Alternatively, if he intended to awaken us to the actions we take and the motivations behind them, then perhaps he succeeded. The book was very descriptive and thoughtful with an extraordinary amount of research and fact put into it. Indeed Kingwell discussed several things that could predict the future of human kind with his talk of a computer overtake or a deadly outbreak of killer diseases. However, ultimately he did not discuss any real final answers. Perhaps he wanted to simply share a multitude of ideas and predictions of the millennium. The book was a mixture of personal anecdotes, factual works and often recollections of others predictions. Kingwell managed to portray a wide variety of angles in which people await the millennium. In some areas of the book Kingwell almost seems to ridicule some peoples behaviors as unnecessary and foolish. This appears to be one of his strengths, to bring mild humor mixed with fact to convey his point. As he discusses his own body he describes it with such detachment yet so personally, thus encouraging the reader to be more objective towards the subject. It almost made the author look vulnerable and of course human, enough to bond more with the reader and become more credible.
The effectiveness of this novel becomes difficult to evaluate because it can be taken in many ways. It could be a warning and prediction to take heed of all the people who are concerned and preoccupied with the upcoming millennium. Another possibility is that the book could be viewed as a simple collection of observations obtained by thoughtful research and several opinions. The preface states that the book is not making any predictions or prophecies, however, it is in a way. Kingwell may not make any predictions himself, but he does talk of them and thus, make the reader consider them. As far as painting a picture of the human race and obviously awaiting the millennium, Kingwell does so quite accurately. He does engage the reader with the interesting and bizarre quirks of our society and of others. The author enables the reader to reflect on several issues that he or she may not normally care to consider.
The main dissatisfaction of this book lies in the fact that it is assumed that Kingwell will project some advice or prediction. Completely the opposite, Kingwell shies away from anything like that. This effectively brings the entire contents of the book to being much less important and valid.
From a students point of view this book proved to be a challenge and yet an interesting read. Although the closing was disappointing, the body of the report was incredibly interesting and eye opening. Kingwell links many things to millennium and Armageddon, which one would not typically forge together. He goes far back into history to places and events that, for the most part barely represent the future at all let alone a reaction to the coming of a new age. Dr. Kingwell reflects on how people fear being left behind and how all fear is going forward to some extent. The exploration of all the topics that Kingwell touches upon leaves little uncharted. His opinions and arguments of behaviors and the future are all so unconnected it leaves them perfectly connected.
As we all have questions and no true answers, Kingwell seems to gather our world together in an effective fashion. He may not agree with all the topics and issues that he describes, but he writes in such a way that the reader feels that he is not without good reason for his opinions. The author’s voice is ordinary yet intellectual and clear while at the same time being descriptive. Of course this book would not be a choice for an easy read, but as a non-fiction work it ranks high. The content, though sometimes dry and cold, is mainly clear and unthreatening, ideal for his subject. The report may not satisfy us all, as readers, with its sketchy conclusion, but as a collection of observations Mark Kingwell serves his purpose well.
Kingwell, Mark Gerald. Dreams of millennium: a report from a culture on the brink.
Toronto: Penguin Books, 1999.