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Douglas Bullis
Book of Days

Picture Book; History & Military; (Publish)

Book of Days is modeled on the Book of Hours genre that flourished from the 13th through 16th centuries. It mixes illustration with text as each of the thirteen chapters places the reader in the footsteps of an actual person going about their life on a single day, one day per century, from the year 1003 until 1975. The overall effect is an escorted tour through life as it was actually lived by people of the time. The individual stories are told in the present tense in a you-are-there cinematic style. The events in the stories are illustrated with images extracted from Middle Ages and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts and more recent gravures and photographs from the era of the printed book. A 270-page A5 facsimile of the manuscript is available on request to the author.

Sweeping in scope and lavishly illustrated, this ambitious title from Bullis imagines daily life in continental northern Europe over the course of a millennium, inviting readers to walk in the shoes of—and discover the work and rituals of—members of the Lefief family for one day in each century, from 1003 to 1905. Inspired by the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry, and the Christian prayer book Book of Hours, Bullis examines the lives of “ordinary people doing ordinary things in much the same way as we go through our lives today.” The journey starts, though, in 1889 France, when a young man, Gerard Lefief, on the verge of disowning his family name, ponders the Lefiefs: who were they? What unfolds from there is an immersive historical pageant.

Bullis was inspired to write the book when he stumbled upon a studio portrait of a couple from 1905, at a flea market in France. The portrait convinced the author to source his story with visuals, rather than just text. History is carefully teased out from these well-sourced illustrations, as Bullis establishes, with clarity and engaging detail, the social setting of his characters, covering in the 1399 chapter alone sundry topics like winemaking, rat-killing, bloodletting, the filling of inkwells, and all the ways an abbey and its waterwheel use the local river. Fascinated with manual trades and skilled work, the author describes the details of plowing, tanning, breadmaking, carpentry, and many more, with each entry’s narrative bursting with surprise. (The illustration accompanying a line about a man purging, in 1599, is a jolt.)

The author’s take on the everyday weaves a resonant narrative rich with revelation and even social commentary. The penultimate chapter takes place in 1788, at the cusp of the French Revolution, showcasing the harsh realities of the Ancien Régime. Book of Days is singular in form, and a potent reminder that history belongs to the people.

Takeaway: A lavishly illustrated survey of everyday life in Europe over the last millennium, rich in insights.

Great for fans of: Paul B. Newman’s Daily Life in the Middle Ages, Frances Gies’s Life in a Medieval Village.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-