Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Hardcover, 314 pages, 2004
Reason for Reading: I noticed this one while browsing Amazon’s best-of lists for 2004. I am far too acquainted
with the night myself, so of course I had to hear from a fellow night owl.
Synopsis: Dewdney serves as the tour guide through a typical 12-hour night, in
which he touches on what people are likely to be doing at a given hour; creatures of the
night; myths, stories and music inspired by the darkness of night; as well as a broad range
of other night-related topics.
Why you should read this book: In short: a very cool idea executed very well.
Acquainted with the Night is a Renaissance-style book for the modern reader, packed
with information on everything from sleep disorders to vampire
squids and bats to fireworks and celebrations – perfect for the insomniac that feels
like the only person on Earth still awake. Through all of the topics, Dewdney’s writing
remains clear and descriptive, and it’s obvious he’s done his homework. Dewdney’s
conversational tone and vivid descriptions allow the reader to slip comfortably into a world
that’s almost alien in its differences from our planet during the daytime. A worthwhile read
with something for almost any reader, from practical facts to awe-inspiring ideas.
Why you should avoid this book: Since Dewdney covers such a wide variety of topics, there’s bound to be a few that simply don’t grab your interest or get a little too far into scientific detail, for example.
I love night. Some of my earliest memories are of magical summer evenings, the
excitement I felt at night’s arrival, its dark splendor. Later, when I was eleven, there
were hot summer nights, especially if the moon was bright, when I felt irresistibly drawn
outside. I’d wait until my parents were asleep and then sneak out of the house, avoiding the
creaky parts of the wooden stairs and the oak floors in the hallway. After quietly shutting
the back door behind me, I was free, deliciously alone in the warm night air. A bolt of pure
electric joy would rush through me as I stepped into the bright stillness of the moonlit
In Europe the stunning peacock moth is a regular visitor to night lights in the
country, and the immense, drop-dead-gorgeous atlas moth of Indonesia has a wingspan
exceeding twelve inches. The atlas moth’s wings, with their transparent eyespots and smoky
brown accents, have a futuristic, oriental look. As well, the tops of both their forewings
extend out into a shape that resembles the profile of a snake’s head, and on each of these
wing tips is the unmistakable image of a reptilian mouth and eye that seems painted on.
Mimicry taken to an almost cosmic dimension.
At night, as our visual sense is diminished our other senses become more acute.
The senses of touch, smell, and particularly of hearing are all increased in a temporary
amplifictation that is similar to the way these senses are permanently heightened in people
who are blind. There is a telling description of this sensory augmentation effect in Tim
O’Brien’s book on Vietnam, The Things They Carried. At one point he recounts how his
sensitized hearing wreaked havoc with his war nerves during a night watch in the Vietnamese
jungle. Sitting, waiting for a possible night attack, he describes how, ‘as the night
deepens, you feel a funny buzzing in your ears. Tiny sounds get heightened and distorted.
The crickets talk in code: the night takes on a weird electronic tingle.’ Other, earlier
writers have noticed this same effect. Edgar Allan Poe wrote, ‘Sound loves to revel in a
summer night,’ and Victorian poet Edmund Hamilton Sears declared that our nocturnal hearing
becomes so acute that, if we listen carefully enough, we can hear divine music: ‘Calm on the
listening ear of night / Come Heaven’s melodious strains…’
Also recommended: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson; The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks.
Also by this author: The Natural History; Signal Fires; Last Flesh: Life in the Transhuman Era; Demon Pond; The Radiant Inventory; Permugenisis; The Immaculate Perception; Predators of the Adoration; After Sublime; Fovea Centralis; A Palaeozoic Geology of London, Ontario.
Fun tidbit: Three of Dewdney’s ten poetry books have been nominated for the Governor-General’s Award.
Would I read more by this author? I’m not sure about checking out his poetry, but I’d read more non-fiction from him for sure – I was surprised this was his first non-fiction effort.
© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2005