Travels in End-Time America
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New York Times Magazine journalist Heard uncovers some truly memorable manifestations of millennial fervor in this quasi-ethnography. There’s the Pentecostal Mississippi dairy farmer who believes that his all-red heifer is a sign that a new temple will be established in Jerusalem, ushering in the endtime; there is also the Israeli rabbi who, with similar millennial expectations, traveled to America to check out the “apocalypse cow.” There are the radical “Gaiaists” who claim that Mother Nature has grown tired of humanity’s abuses and is about to unleash a series of cataclysms to kick us off the planet; these followers plan to be the only ones prepared to survive earth’s attack. Heard calls these well-meaning survivalists “Swiss Family Robinson with a Rambo complex.” Then there are the UFO “contactee” groups, including the southern California—based (where else?) Unarians, who await the 2001 arrival of the “tall, wise, and kindly Space Brothers,” benevolent beings sent to assist earthlings on the road to enlightenment. If there’s a surprising thread among these groups, it’s that most of them are looking forward to the apocalypse. Not all are prophets of doom; many are just ordinary folks who expect to greet the coming age with great joy. Heard does a fine job of outlining some of the paradoxes of their widely variant forms of prophecy belief. His writing is as crisp and snappy as the book’s title, though a few of his assertions aren—t fully supported by his research. (Some facts also need checking, such as his claim that “hundreds” died in the Oklahoma City blast.) Heard comes down rather unsympathetically on many of his interviewees, repeatedly utilizing pejorative and uninformative words like “hoodoo” to describe their millennial beliefs. Still, on balance, he gives their social grievances an eloquent airing. Overall, a humorous and well-written attempt to understand our ongoing fascination with the apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04689-3
Page count: 254pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998