BOOK REVIEW: A Million Years in a Day – Greg Jenner

A Million Years in A Day by Greg JennerWant to know how daylight savings time started? Who really invented the modern toilet? Were the Vikings really filthy Barbarians? Did Early Modern people think bathing was dangerous? This book aims to answer these questions (and many more!) as Greg Jenner takes us from sun up to sun down, through A Million Years in a Day.

We wake up, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, read the paper, shower, get dressed, go to work, make dinner, meet friends, go to bed and do it all over again the very next morning – but do we ever really stop think about our day? Does it ever cross our minds as we make that pot of coffee, shower, or brush our teeth, what simple daily activities were like hundreds, or even thousands of years ago?

A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life from the Stone Age to the Phone Age sheds some light on day-to-day life activities from the Stone Age to the present day, starting off in the present, on a typical Saturday morning. From waking up and telling us about the history of time keeping through the ages, to how we used to go to the the loo, to the rise and fall of cleanliness, its an in-depth and humorous account of ancient, medieval, and early modern habits.

The stories range from the utterly appalling, to the downright creative and fascinating, showcasing the bizarre and marvellous innovations humans have fashioned over the course of a millennia just to get by on a daily basis. From medicine, to how people slept, to the advent of the telephone, everything you need to know about how we got to where we are now is between these pages. For example, did you know:

  • The Romans used public bathrooms where they sat alongside each other on long communal benches, and chatted merrily along while going to the toilet
  • The first newspaper was actually written in German and printed in the town of Strasbourg in 1605
  • The oldest sewing needle date back 60, 000 years
  • King Louis IV had such bad breath that his mistress had to wear perfume just so she could be near him without retching
  • Communal bathing stopped after the Black Death and by the 17th century, linen was hailed by the French as the ‘cleaner, better alternative to washing’

Reading this book made me think about all the modern amenities I completely take for granted as I move about my day: the heated water I shower with, dentistry that doesn’t kill you, a cell phone to reach anyone at anytime, appliances to wash my clothes and help me cook. This book, while keeping it light-hearted, gave me a new appreciation for the complexities of day-to-day life.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book is its approach to history. Jenner took a cheeky poke at history with this book, and turned the stiff, dry, boring accounts of the past on their heads. It’s an easy, fun read, engrossing and informative. History doesn’t need to be a collection of dull dates and facts, and it certainly doesn’t have to be serious to be educational. This approach comes as no surprise given that Jenner is one of Historical Consultants behind Horrible Histories, a comedic look at history through sketches and songs, and he has also dipped his toe into comedy by performing for various charity events.

Greg Jenner. Photo:

Greg Jenner. Photo:

Jenner is absolutely irreverent and it’s great – I caught myself laughing – really laughing, at many points throughout the book, much to the chagrin of the people around me. I definitely got a few stares reading this thing on the Tube, it’s incredibly funny. If you’re looking for history with a twist, and a good belly laugh, then pick up a copy of A Million Years in a Day.

For more information about Greg Jenner and his work, please visit:

Follow Greg on Twitter: @greg_jenner

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Smartphone and Tablet users click here to sign up for
our weekly email

medievalverse magazine