A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life

Written by Greg Jenner
Review by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Forgive Greg Jenner the hyperbole of his title, since “30,000 Years in a Day” would not have had the same ring. Nonetheless, this survey of how cultures, customs, and mores have formed and evolved over millennia is a fun and informative journey through the ages. Jenner uses the example of a normal Saturday to explore the many conventions that govern our day, from how we calculate and track time, to what we wear, to the dirty detail of our daily hygiene rituals, to all the ways in which we communicate.

For such a breezy book, the breadth and depth of information that Jenner provides is impressive. Plus, we learn so much: Dom Perignon called champagne “the Devil’s wine” because of those cursed bubbles; until 2011 a law on the Parisian books forbade a woman’s wearing trousers unless she’s riding a horse or a bicycle; Louis XIV regularly chatted with visitors while moving his bowels; and the oldest continuously marketed product is Pears Soap, founded in 1789.

The major element missing from Jenner’s tour is the concept of commerce—jobs, money, trade, economics—which might have been introduced by a trip to the ATM. No worries—material enough for another book.