The book is a systematic look at night-time, with each section devoted to one particular aspect of it, liberally loaded with quotations and with quite a few evocative illustrations. One section is about the natural dangers of the dark, another about criminals at night, another about how families buttoned up the premises, about meditation at night, and another about how and why people got together at night. If you sense contradictions between hiding at home from the dangers of the dark and socializing with the neighbors, remind yourself that life is complicated.
Evil spirits and criminal gangs and drunken drownings on the one side, and talking with friends after a long day’s work (or working late, if you were a tailor or baker) and evening trysts on the other make for a complex mosaic.
I learned quite a lot: I’d never known what a bed-stave (though I used something like it a few times) was or tried to make a pine-knot candle.
Warning: the thorough approach makes the book seem to jump around. But it was interesting, and worth the read. The last lines are:
With darkness diminished, opportunities for privacy, intimacy, and self-reflection will grow more scarce. Should that luminous day arrive, we stand to lose a vital element of our humanity--one as precious as it is timeless. That, in the depths of a dark night, should be a bracing prospect for any spent soul to contemplate.