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Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199753598
ISBN-10: 0199753598
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Editorial Reviews


"Millennial expressions are found throughout history and are all around us. As Richard Landes demonstrates, some have extremely serious consequences. This is an erudite and informative cross-cultural study of the characteristics and dynamics of the varieties of millennial movements. There is much to be learned from this volume. Particularly welcome are the treatments of the secular millennial thought of Marx, and the Communist millennial movement in Russia and its influence on German Nazi millennialism. Richard Landes's insightful analysis of millennial phenomena constitutes a major contribution to the study of history and current events."--Catherine Wessinger, Rev. H. James Yamauchi, S.J. Professor of the History of Religions, Loyola University New Orleans

"A craggy edifice of a book, monumental in scope, solid in scholarship, exploring many crevices of the past that will disturb and provoke every serious reader. . . This book is about the urgent temperament of those who expect the grandest events of history and the cosmos to occur soon and suddenly, whether as a religious dénouement with the coming of the Last Days or as a final social solution to solve the human predicament forever. Through a judicious collection of cases (including radical shifts of belief in Antiquity, cargo cults, and UFO religions), Landes demonstrates just how significant the millenarian factor is in history, and admonishes that this element has been paradoxically downplayed by historians (who often do not even want to understand it)." --Garry W. Trompf, Emeritus Professor in the History of Ideas and Adjunct Professor in Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney

"A significant contribution...succeeds in both analyzing past catastrophic millennialist movements and predicting what the future may hold." - Library Journal

"A large and impressive book that shows a vast learning." -Kenneth Minogue, Wall Street Journal

"A superb new book." -Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal

"In Heaven on Earth, Richard Landes redresses our historiographical blind eye towards manifestly irrational social movements."--Daivis P. Goldman

"Landes, an expert in medieval religion, presents arguments that will be controversial but are also largely convincing."--CHOICE

"In his taxonomy of millennial ideas and movements over the course of history, Landes ascribes a very important role to Judaism. Heaven on Earth concludes with an urgent reminder of the danger posed by contemporary millennialism to the Jews."--Jewish Ideas Daily

"The research is vast and deep, discovering meanings that one might have overlooked, had one not the impulse to upset convention.a work of enormous erudition and an imparter of knowledge and insight."--The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

I found Landes' attention to detail and persuasive argumentation on the parallels between these disparate movements one of the outstanding merits of the volume. The depth of his research is indeed impressive, as is his ability to create a narrative that is truly academic and interdisciplinary, as well as a pleasant read."--Nova Religio

About the Author

Richard Landes is Associate Professor of History and directed the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. He is the author of several books, and editor of The Apocalyptic Year 1000 and the Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199753598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199753598
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.6 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,155,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Do you remember when the world ended on 21 May? Well, it didn't really end, but do you remember how Jesus returned and delivered his last judgement on those remaining after his followers were raptured away? Well, that didn't happen, either, despite the predications of a California radio evangelist and despite the sincere beliefs of his followers. It surprised some that the "The End of the World Is Near" philosophy should be powerful and thriving in the twenty-first century; it did not surprise Richard Landes, a scholar of apocalyptic movements who directs the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and is the editor of the _Encyclopedia of Millennialism_. He has written extensively on the topic, and now brings out _Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millennial Experience_ (Oxford University Press), a review of apocalyptic actions of huge scope, starting with Akhenaten's failed revolution in Ancient Egypt and continuing through the current day. While we may be familiar with Christian predictions of an end of times, one of the surprising things about Landes's book is that Christian versions are not emphasized here. Other religions, sometimes bizarre ones, have their apocalyptic ways, and sometimes an apocalyptic message comes with no religious strings attached. Thus, you might find mention here of Christian-related predictions of disaster like "The Great Disappointment" in 1843 when thousands of Americans ditched their fields and families to greet the returning Jesus, or the series of _Left Behind_ novels that depict an end times in which millions sincerely believe, or Jim Jones's suicide cult in Guyana. They are just mentions, though, and Landes seems to think the Christian version of apocalypse has been covered enough elsewhere.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Richard Landes is one of the very few historians who possess a winning combination of breadth of knowledge, depth of insight, and critical perception of historical continuities. His command of the field of millennial expectation, language and the results of millennial disappointment is awesome. Of special note are the convincing parallels and consistencies that he elicits between different movements, thinkers and the present day. Indeed, the magisterial nature of his study and the convincing contemporary parallels he discerns must cause the thinking reader to sit up and take notice.
Truly, an incredible Tour de Force.
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Format: Hardcover
Books on the History of Ideas are often a tough sell, especially ones that are over 500 pages long. Heaven on Earth is an exception to this rule. HoE examines the 'millennial' ideas that motivated a number of epic and self inflicted human tragedies. The historical events covered in this book are interesting on thier own (though mostly familiar to students of history). However, the puzzle as to why these things happened is more than interesting. Understanding these events is key to not reliving history in the new millenium. This is a worthwhile read, strong in terms of content and writing syle.
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Richard Landes' brilliant tour through millennial utopian movements from ancient Egypt to contemporary jihad illuminates a broad historical landscape. His subjects are religious (the monotheist Pharaoh Akhenaten, Islamist jihad), secular (the French Revolution, Communism, Nazism), tribal (Xhosa cattle-slaying, Papuan Cargo Cults), and contemporary (UFO Cults). By tracing common and contrasting threads among these movements separated by time and geography, Landes untangles a historical web with an impressive breadth of erudition.

Modern minds may find it easy to dismiss the irrationality of Xhosa killing their cattle to bring prosperity or Papuans waiting passively for airplanes to bring worldly treasures. But the cataclysm of Nazi and Communist barbarity (all in the name of achieving a bright shining future) should focus our minds on the threat of millennial ideology. Landes' final chapter on the "Enraged Millenialism" of global jihad is a clarion warning that many still dream of mass murder as a necessary means of achieving paradise on earth.

Livening the deadly serious subject, Landes uses four metaphors to draw parallels between disparate historical events. The "rooster" is the apocalyptic herald who crows "Dawn breaks, arise for the Day of the Lord," while the anti-apocalyptic "owl" hoots "Quiet! It's still the middle of the night." "Bats" are historians who view apocalyptic movements from a distance, awakening and hovering when the events are already done, often using the documents left by the owls, whose prejudice is that the apocalyptic movement was inconsequential to begin with. "Turkeys," on the other hand, among whom Landes includes himself, are down in the barnyard with the other animals trying to figure out what the noise is all about.
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Heaven on Earth is a serious work of scholarship, yet engaging and accessible to anyone with an interest in new ways to understand history. Professor Landes uses the case study approach to demonstrate that his theory of Millennialism can apply across a greater variety of human situations than generally thought - from cattle slaying among the 19th century Xhosa of Southern Africa to Fascism and Communism and on to more contemporary movements. This approach puts the focus on concrete examples and keeps the narrative moving. Although he is a specialist in Medieval history, Landes exercises an earthy sense of humor often absent from academic works. He labels those who announce the Millennium as 'Roosters', the nay sayers as 'Owls'. But I wont spoil the fun - you'll have to read the book to find out who the 'bats' and the 'turkeys' are.

While Heaven on Earth is both revealing and critical of the excesses of Millennial movements particularly when they result in massive death and human suffering, it is not a polemic against Millennialism. Rather Landes makes the case that Millennialism is a universal human tendency that commonly arises in both entire societies and also smaller social groupings and one that moreover takes on a variety of recognizable forms. For example, Landes classification helps distinguish 'passive transformational' movements such as the Shakers from 'active cataclysmic' ones that end is tragedy, like the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway by Aum Shinrikyo. After reading the book I think it would be a rare reader who would fail to observe traces of Millennial thinking in their own responses to the various case studies as well as see outer events both past and present in a new light.

Landes examines in detail how movements try to create heaven on earth.
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