Only Christopher Dewdney could mine the darkest pools of lore, legend, natural history, science, cultural history and the arts to recast the seemingly commonplace aspects of an ordinary night into a magical and exhilarating nocturnal tour. Using an original hour-by-hour structure that follows night’s progression from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, Dewdney explores and celebrates a single representative night at each point on the clock.
6:00 pm: The setting sun begins Dewdney’s search to discover the perfect sunset. 10:00 pm: The evening rhythms of the city hit their stride, from the cop on the night beat to the backbeat of the clubs. Midnight: The hour of romance and magic. 3:00 am: Dewdney is wide awake at a sleep clinic. 5:00 am: “The desperate hour,” we enter a provocative cultural investigation of the “art of darkness.”
For all those who’ve been wondering what they’ve been missing while they sleep, Acquainted with the Night is an illuminating exploration and a terrific gift book.
Noted Canadian writer Dewdney (The Immaculate Perception) celebrates the science, religion and art of night in a delightful compendium that charts the nocturnal phases planetary, human and animal of life. Dewdney writes confidently about the physics underlying sunset, darkness, lunar phases and the dimensions of night. He explores global culture's nighttime customs and associations found in bedtime stories, festivals, fireworks, sexuality, the gothic imagination, ancient myth and stargazing, among other traditions and practices. He makes several journalistic excursions: studying the work of a pyrotechnical team, accompanying a Toronto constable on night watch and offering himself as a sleep laboratory subject. Through close readings of classic bedtime stories, Dewdney perceptively analyzes childhood's special relation to night, home and security. Yet he also spends time in the adult precincts of nightlife, limning brief histories of cabaret and prostitution before describing the contemporary nightclubbing scene. A fascinating history of street lighting links it to changes in policing methods and attitudes to crime. Night is a tactile realm, Dewdney reminds the reader. Nostalgic for organic purity, he bemoans the lack of true darkness in our overlit modern world. He reports on how light pollution disturbs our circadian rhythms and how sleep deprivation can ruin one's long-term health. Dewdney is careful to thoroughly elucidate the basic neuroscience of the dreaming mind. His summarized history of dream interpretation includes Mesopotamian myth, Vedic lore, Native American and ancient Chinese and Greek theories, as well as Freud and Jung. Tautly written in a highly condensed yet personable voice, this tour of the manifold nocturnal realm is a superbly meticulous feat.