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VINE VOICEon July 15, 2011
"2012 and the End of the World" is a concise and detailed look into all things 2012, focusing on the history of the New World's apocalyptic fascination and how it connects to this key date in Maya history.

Matthew Restall and Amara Solari are professors at Penn State. The two were preparing a class to be taught IN 2012, focused ON 2012 and the result of those preparations is this book. Spanning only about 100 pages, the chapters are well-organized and well-structured for easy classroom note taking ("first we will be discussing these four points...point 1, etc."). This very readable book is more academic than narrative, but does an incredible job of incorporating a lot of info in only a few pages. It's not written for the academic community, but rather it's targeted at readers interested in understanding what's behind the 2012 mythos.

They refer to 2012ology...the study of all things related to the Maya "Prophecy" and the "end date" of their Long Count calendar: December, 21, 2012. As they state early in the book, the purpose of their class, and this book "is to use 2012ology as a vehicle for combining the sources and methods of art history to explain the medieval, modern, and Maya contributions to the 2012 phenomenon..." The book contains numerous drawings, photos and images that enhance their own descriptive analyses.

What started all of this bizarrely intense focus on 12/21/12? It was the fragments of a monument accidentally uncovered by construction workers at a small archaeological site known as El Tortuguero. On what is known as Stella 6 is a reference to 13.0.0.0.0, a date used in the Maya's long range time-tracking calendar, and a strange and brief mythological tale. The Maya Long Count calendar keeps a running tally of time from a certain "zero" starting point. That starting point is equivalent to our 0 A.D. It's arbitrary and after years of research and discoveries, Mayanists have established the Long Count starting point as our August 11, 3114 B.C. Mayanists are then able to work forward and determine that the Tortuguero carving matches with our December 21, 2012. The fact that 12/21/12 happens to fall on a winter solstice is not lost on scientists nor 2012ologists...those from the non-scientific community have put their own stake in the ground in attempting to bring meaning to 13.0.0.0.0.

"One interpretation of the Long Count argues that it is by its very nature 'predictive'. In other words, it was not created by selecting a starting date and then counting forward to 2012. Instead...the Maya selected a significant end date and then counted backwards." Since the Maya are well known to have tracked the progression and cycles of celestial events, it wouldn't be all that difficult to find a future solstice and work back from there.

This is a very interesting theory and makes sense in a number of ways, however, Restall and Solari make it clear that the theory "is not widely accepted among Mayanists today. In no way diminishing the impressiveness that the Maya were able to even look that far ahead to make connections with significant celestial events, the authors write, "...there is no evidence...it is an intriguing speculation, but not one supported by any other text or image among Maya sources." Those from the non-scientific world of 2012ology, however, have latched onto the predictive premise, insisting that the Maya meant something significant to happen on this date.

The perception by some that the Maya were expecting an "end-of-times" comes not just from Tortuguero alone, but through a combination of resources. Renowned Mayan Epigrapher David Stuart indicates that the carving from Tortuguero is the SOLE reference to the infamous 12/21/12 date. But the view of what it means comes from a blending of multiple resources. One of the extant Maya-originated documents called the Dresden Codex includes an image and story related to a world-changing flood. Much of Maya myth involves dreadfully violent and vivid acts of violence. But almost all of those myths include a rebounding or recycling event that follows the destruction.

The Maya (and most Mesoamerican cultures) were all about the cycles of existence: agriculture, life, death, birth, etc. The cycles of the physical world are what drove the Maya mindset. And so their mythology and religion developed around that. The position of the stars and moon helped guide the best times to plant or harvest, for example. The sheer amount of cultural remains that reference specific dates indicates that importance of time to these peoples. And it makes sense. The physical world is an extremely mysterious place and the drivers of their lives were completely bound by the uncontrollable "whims" of the world around them. Restall and Solari make it crystal clear that the Maya were not interested in apocalyptic foretellings and futures. It was all about renewal and rebirth.

The apocalyptic viewpoint was brought TO the Maya during the post-Conquest, colonial settlement period in the New World. Specifically, the Franciscan sect of friars spread throughout Mesoamerica focused on saving the souls of the uninitiated "savages" of New Spain. The Book of Revelations and the inherent Christian "threats" of Hell drove home a more apocalpytic religious perspective that became embedded in the Maya integration and absorption of European religion.

Like what happened during the late '90s during the run up to Y2K, the pop culture hum around a 2012 Apocalypse will become a roar over the next 2 years. The authors highlight one hotel in Central America that offers a 12/21/12 special package...if tourists stay during 12/21, and the world still exists on 12/22, then that night is free.

I enjoyed reading this book and its broad perspectives. I would also highly recommend David Stuart's "The Order of Days" for a more comprehensive dive into Maya culture, history and their calendar.
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on January 8, 2014
A pretty good book. The thrust: the Maya did not predict anything special would happen in 2012, much less an apocalypse. Any apocalyptic matter in Maya religion, so the authors say, is a product of a syncretic spillover from the Catholic-Indian encounter, later puffed up by New Agers. Restall and Solari make some good points, but they make some missteps too.

For instance, like many Latin Americanists, they have a thorn in their side when it comes to Christianity, especially the Catholic Church (Christianity=evil; Indians=wonderful untouched, i.e. un-Western, civs). Thus they make some mistakes when it comes to analyzing and discussing Christianity. For instance, on p. 54 they call the birth of Christ an Immaculate Conception. No. Christ was a product of the Virgin Birth, Mary was the product of the Immaculate Conception. On p. 78, Vespucci's narrative, in which he encounters stormy seas and then finds the New World is not a tale of "apocalypse and redemption," it is Providence. (Do the authors really not know what apocalypse and redemption are?) On p. 79, the authors say that a parable in Luke 14 ("Parable of the Great Banquet") is about charity and not about souls and the last judgement. This stems from the liberal Christian view (the "Hippie Jesus" view I call it) that Jesus only taught a brand of proto-communism. No, it is outwardly about charity, but the greater implication is that it is about the Last Judgement. Restall and Solari claim Jesus was only talking about charity and the Franciscans turned it into a millennial prophecy. No, Jesus meant it that way. ("He who has ears, let him hear!")

On the Latin American history stage, the authors attempt to rehabilitate the last Aztec emperor Montezuma (pp. 86ff.). This is a debate that has two sides, though more modern historians, influenced by a post-colonialist need to take the sides of the good indigenes over the evil Europeans, take Montezuma's side. With the source texts we have, we can never resolve this debate, though Restall and Solari take the side of Montezuma. It is this impulse that makes the authors downplay any evidence that Maya religion, books, art, and prophecy was violent and apocalyptic at all. Thus they do note that a baktun cycle ends in 2012, but they insist the Maya did not think anything bad will happen at the end of such a cycle. A new one just starts. But there is some scanty evidence this is not the case, the world ending and being created anew could have existed in pre-Columbian Maya texts and thought.

All in all, they do make a great case that "2012ology" is bunk, but they try to make the case a bit too hard by absolving the Maya of any apocalyptic notions. In this they go too far. (Point in case, Restall and Solari insist on calling 2012ism "millennial," which is clearly a Christian concept, instead of calling it "apocalyptic," which, when divorced of the book of Revelation and used just as an adjective, could mean any violent ending.)

The book includes a great sort of annotated bibliography, but they do not cite ANYTHING in the text with footnotes or endnotes, which would have made the book grand instead of just good.
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on January 18, 2012
Most books on 2012 fall into two categories. The first houses the many non-scholarly works that have appeared over the past few years to provide both accurate and inaccurate interpretations of the Maya and 2012. Although their conclusions are dubious at times, the writing is accessible to the average reader. The second category contains scholarly works and their examination of 2012. Although their conclusions have a stronger foundation in historical and archaeological research, the writing can be a bit dry and arcane. Matthew Restall and Amara Solari's book create a third category for books on 2012 that are both scholarly and accessible. The book is concise and to the point. The authors root their arguments in historical evidence, yet present the information in a way that the average reader will appreciate. Furthermore, the book takes the study of 2012 a step further to explore why we believe in doomsday prophecies. As a result, the reader will walk away from the book educated, entertained, and enlightened.
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on August 20, 2012
This book gives a clear, concise explanation of how the Mayan "Long Count" calendar worked. By some coincidence, December 21, 2012 begins a new cycle in that calendar.

But as the authors explain, the ancient Mayans didn't think that the end of a cycle of their calendar would mark the end of the age. Worrying about the end of the age is a notable characteristic of Western Christian culture but wasn't a part of Mayan culture.

The book also shows that there are some later Mayan documents, written after the arrival of Franciscan missionaries--and long after the Long Cycle calendar had fallen out of use--that use apocalyptic language. Out of context appropriation of these documents has helped fuel today's 2012 mania.

My only criticism of the book is that it shows signs of having been written quickly, perhaps to take advantage of the interest in 2012. It could have used a round of editing and fact-checking. For example, the book places William Miller's predictions of the Second Coming at 1833 and 1834 rather than 1843 and 1844. There's some occasional confusion between "prophecy" (a noun) and "prophesy" (a verb). For example, in one place on p. 80, the book talks about a "principle prophesy" when it means "principal prophecy". And on p. 3, the authors use "prophesize" when they mean "prophesy".
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on August 16, 2012
It's been at least half a bundle of years since we had such a fine debunking of a cherished scholarly-cum-popular myth about the Maya (the 'rediscovery' of human sacrifice and vengeance cycles after the decades-long astro-peace tyranny of J. Eric Thompson comes to mind). Restall and Solari know both sides of this weird, hybrid story and explain both with verve and wit. Despite their highfalutin credentials, this is not the expected cranky, pedantic, scholarly myth-busting but rather a Brazilian jiujitsu take-down - so subtle you almost don't see it coming. The curse is lifted! (Or is it?)
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on August 17, 2012
This is the best book I've read on the subject. Very accessible and concise. That's nice. Covers well the main points of ancient evidence concerning Maya beliefs regarding the creation and destruction of the world, their calendar, and the scant but tantalizing mentions in ancient texts of 2012. Some other books cover the same ground. But this book goes further. It follows the evolution of Maya thought about these topics into the post-conquest and modern periods. It explores the influence of European apocalyptic thought upon Maya thinking about time and fate. And with insight and humor it charts the rise of 2012 mania among Western observers of the Maya. This book isn't just about 2012. It's about Mayas, and about us. Nicely done.
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on August 16, 2012
This book is full of very interesting research. It doesn't set out to punch the myth out of your mind but rather give you the tools to come up with your own conclusions. It is wonderful tool to use to hold your own when a conversation starts about the Apocalypse. It is amusing to shoot down the rabid Apoca-loco's that are selling all their stuff.
Well worth it.
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on August 31, 2012
2012 and the End of the World: The Western Roots of the Maya ApocalypseIf you were getting worried about the Universe crashing on December 21st, 2012, or December 23rd, 2012 (it depends on which correlation of Maya and Christian calendars you employ, which should be a clue as to how flaky the whole fuss is), stop worrying. The world will roll on, the Maya calendar will enter another Great Cycle, and Restall and Solari's book explains just why, and how the whole misconception arose. They are nice about John Major Jenkins, who seems to be serious, if misinformed, and marginally less nice about some of the other fringe prophets of doom. This book, together with Anthony Aveni's "The End of Time" and David Stuart's "The Order of Days", tells you all you need to know about the Maya, their complex calendar - perhaps the single most impressive intellectual achievement in prehispanic America - and why we should be fascinated, not fearful. Norman Hammond
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on August 17, 2012
Restall and Solari have done that remarkable task: presenting a scholarly and accurate portrayal that is also written in a highly readable and easily accessible style. A student of the Maya myself, I appreciate their attention to detail, not letting the facts gets lost in the flowery language of popular science. At the same time, I could not put the book down, and read it from cover to cover in one sitting.
The book debunks the wild theories about Maya beliefs surrounding 2012, but much more than just tearing down a myth, Restall and Solari does so in a way that builds up a rich and revealing portrait of the Maya.
Highly recommended for those interested in 2012--and those just interested in the Maya.
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on October 10, 2012
I cannot say that I am by any means an expert on the subject matter of "2012 and the End of the World" but it is a subject that I find fascinating and am now very much more informed about as a result of reading Professor Restall and Professor Solari's book. For the lay person, this is a book that is incredibly detailed but does not overwhelm. The writing style is witty and insightful but concise and to the point.

Overall, an excellent book and I would certainly recommend it for any student interested in the subject or for any dilettante historian.
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