"The Last Myth" has earned its place alongside Philip Zimbardo's "The Time Paradox" and I.F. Clarke's "The Pattern of Expectation" as one of the best books on humanity's concept of "the future." While its title promises an exploration of how apocalyptic thinking evolved, authors Mathew Barrett Gross and Mel Gilles also serve up answers to two other big questions: why did humanity change from thinking that time is circular to linear, and how has the idea of progress changed from the Renaissance through today? All three ideas are woven together in a compelling, jargon-free narrative that is — no pun intended — revelatory.
For example, there have been a number of points where people (granted, slowly) made a 180-degree change in how they think about time. In its earliest days, humanity interpreted life events as the forces of destruction seeking balance with the forces of creation. That changed into a concept of good continually battling evil. There was another period when people thought that every action was a repetition of what ancestors had done before them; there was nothing new under the sun. Over time, that opinion shifted to thinking each event is unprecedented and so history is leading us to some specific point, often utopian or dystopian in nature.
The authors wrap up their work by highlighting two alarming trends. The first is that apocalyptic thinking has hit levels in the past decade in America that haven't been seen worldwide in a thousand years. And second, the desire to view global events through an apocalyptical lens is clouding the ability to tackle real problems (see "With 2012 Over, is the Apocalypse Dead?").
Suffice it to say, "The Last Myth" will be found educational and enjoyable by historians, futurists, and anyone who wants a fresh take on the concept of time itself.
(Cross-posted from Selling Tomorrows)
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