Great Nonfiction: Circles and Lines, by John Demos

Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early AmericaThe way we were, and how we got to where we are now

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an interesting book. Author Demos, an expert on colonial and early American society, brings insights gained from a long career to illustrate how everyday life was impacted by the absence of things we now take for granted and depend upon. Anyone who lived through last October’s New England snowstorm can relate, because, although it was only for a week, life was rather primitive for those of us without electric power. Demos describes how dark it was outdoors in the absence of artificial light sources; as a result, life constricted at night, as people retreated to their own firesides for comfort and safety. It’s hard to imagine today going to bed at 6 PM on winter evenings and not rising until the sun appeared 10 hours later. Your house was your world for those hours. With respect to lifestyle, there was no conception of adolescence or middle age. People were young, kids treated like small adults, and after 40 or 50 years, if you were fortunate, you’d be old. These are just a few examples of how our views and expectations have changed, radically, over the centuries. Circles and Lines is a scholarly work but eminently readable and appealing. Recommended for anyone with an interest in American history and the evolution of everyday life.

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