Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages — Eugen Weber

For most people, where they were the night that 1999 became 2000 is, unfortunately, of little consequence. Nothing really happened–no explosions, no pestilence, no good old-fashioned wrath o’ God. Despite many claiming it would be the end, the change of the millennium was as humdrum as any other New Year’s Eve. Yet, for centuries, people have predicted the end of Western society and the world.

The year 2000 is only one of many dates individuals have declared the end of time. In Eugen Weber’s new book, Apocalypses, he lists date after date of the expected end, with a surprisingly large amount of people miscalculating Earth’s finale. It’s almost funny, if it weren’t such an emotionally charged subject for many of us. In the end, it seems that nearly every year since the early 19th century has been earmarked as the date of the apocalypse. Weber shows this by continual, overwhelming amounts of historical information–in fact, too much. Though a book of this type is almost always interesting, somehow, this author finds a way to make it boring.

Weber is an incredibly qualified History professor, who until recently, he held a significant position at UCLA. However, despite other pieces I have read by Weber, Apocalypses is hard to follow and somewhat incoherent. He tries to take the reader on a journey through history, looking at the various apocalyptic movements and figures who have continually predicted our end. Yet, try as he might, because Weber chooses to spit out information instead of expounding a little on it, his chapters run together. The reader can’t distinguish one subject from the next.

Maybe the easiest chapter to really see what he’s getting at is the chapter he includes on movements in the 20th century. However, that’s mostly because I have lived through many of the events he describes. These events include the famed Waco fire, the Jonestown suicide cult, the Heaven’s Gate cult of a few years ago, and even Jehovah Witnesses.

Weber believes, although there have been millennial cults and movements since the beginning of Judeo-Christian history, it is the wide use of a calendar that keeps people hung up on the final doom. In other words, since they couldn’t figure out exactly when it was, they couldn’t predict the end. As soon as they could pin-point where they stood in history, people started heralding the end times.

The book is interesting, but because it is so inaccessible it makes reading difficult. Weber does prove his point, however, it’s too bad that it gets lost in his non-stop jumble of information.

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