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Review: A Brief History of the End of the World

A Brief History of the End of the World by Simon Pearson is essentially an introduction to the apocalyptic ideas and thoughts that have influenced Western literature, modern society, and the way humans think. He gives a brief overview of the major world traditions, focusing on the Abrahamic faiths, especially the Bible’s Book of Revelation – he claims that this book has been the most influential piece of literature ever written. However, far from focusing only on tradition, Pearson discusses how the concept of “the end of the world” has permeated modern culture (e.g., Hollywood), politics, and psychology.

Although Pearson is obviously very knowledgeable about our impending doom, he doesn’t seem to buy into the idea that the world is going to end. He is quite skeptical about doomsday prophecies, and makes it a point to highlight prophecies that never came true. He also talks a little about the psychology of people today and in the past, showing that this is in part responsible for keeping alive the doomsday ideal. In this way, Pearson adopts a detached scientist’s attitude in dealing with the apocalyptic tradition and focuses more on history, attitudes and society rather than the details of the apocalypse.

This book is excellent if one wanted to read about the apocalypse from a non-preachy, non-superstitious point of view. It is also a good introduction to apocalyptic thought for those who have little knowledge of the Abrahamic tradition; however, if you are well-versed in doomsday talk, this book will not tell you anything you don’t already know.