A Retrospective on the Future
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 An intelligent debunking of end-of-the-millennium hype from historian Stearns (Carnegie-Mellon Univ.) What is the end of the 20th century going to bring--especially when it is also the end of the second millennium? Probably not very much, according to Stearns, except that the Big Date (he opts for 2001, rather than 2000) could provide an opportunity for us to take a long look at our society and where we are going. Stearns begins by reminding us that the whole idea of the calendar as we know it is very relative: Not only is our calendar Christian and just one among other ancient systems of reckoning time, but even its adoption in Christendom came relatively late--the French court was still using Constantine's system of 15-year cycles in the 13th century. Stearns describes how the stories of mass hysteria at the end of the first millennium have long been exposed as an anti-Catholic myth concocted by Enlightenment writers, such as Jules Michelet. Stearns gives us a brief tour through Christian millenarianism, including Nostradamus and 14th-century Joachim of Flora's vision of a coming era of the Holy Spirit. But the author notes that this outlook only really flourished among fringe groups during the Reformation; some found their way to the New World and still constitute a vocal minority here. We are given a review of recent turn-of-the-century attitudes: How Americans in 1900 celebrated a coming era of progress, whereas fin-de-siäcle Europeans were not so sure. Stearns offers a savvy commentary on our curious, contradictory society, with its emphasis on ``impersonal friendliness'' and lack of historical awareness, and makes his own guarded prognostications. A welcome dose of sense as we begin to leave the decade, the century, the millennium.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8133-2870-5
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996