What is eternity? Is it anything other than a purely abstract concept, totally unrelated to our lives? A mere hope? A frightfully uncertain horizon? Or is it a certainty, shared by priest and scientist alike, and an essential element in all human relations?
In A Very Brief History of Eternity, Carlos Eire, the historian and National Book Award-winning author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, has written a brilliant history of eternity in Western culture. Tracing the idea from ancient times to the present, Eire examines the rise and fall of five different conceptions of eternity, exploring how they developed and how they have helped shape individual and collective self-understanding.
A book about lived beliefs and their relationship to social and political realities, A Very Brief History of Eternity is also about unbelief, and the tangled and often rancorous relation between faith and reason. Its subject is the largest subject of all, one that has taxed minds great and small for centuries, and will forever be of human interest, intellectually, spiritually, and viscerally.
Carlos Eire is the author of the memoirs Waiting for Snow in Havana, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2003, and Learning to Die in Miami. His other books include War Against the Idols and From Madrid to Purgatory. He is the Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.
"It's a fascinating story. . . . Happily, there is consolation in A Very Brief History of Eternity, hidden in plain sight. . . . As long as God's problems with living in eternity mirror what our own would be, maybe mortality isn't so bad after all."--Andrew Stark, Wall Street Journal
"Despite its heady topic, Eire's engaging style and sense of humor keep things light enough to carry readers through a history of 'how conceptions of forever, or eternity, have evolved in Western culture, and what role these conceptions have played in shaping our own self-understanding, personally and collectively.' Eire gives readers so much to think about and in such an entertaining manner that he can be excused for occasionally overreaching."--Publishers Weekly
"Carlos Eire's A Very Brief History of Eternity reminds us that our puzzlement over what comes after death has a history. The ways in which we ask about our relation to death and the hereafter do not take place in a vacuum. Instead, our wondering arises within particular historical contexts, where life and death are related in particular ways."--Todd May, Forbes
"A profound and unsettling inquiry."--Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)
"Eire intimately addresses the weighty subject of eternity in this delightful volume. His skill at engaging readers conceals the rigorous, thoughtful research and methodology that went into this volume. . . . As it stands this thought-provoking book is sure to be a classic."--Choice
"A lively trot around the literature, referring to everything from the Reformation to ghosts to Karl Marx to tattooing, in the company of a skeptical believer. A tough topic tamed by a lively mind."--Miriam Cosic, Australian
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations ix
Chapter I: Big Bang, Big Sleep, Big Problem 1
Chapter II: Eternity Conceived 28
Chapter III: Eternity Overflowing 67
Chapter IV: Eternity Reformed 100
Chapter V: From Eternity to Five-Year Plans 157
Chapter VI: Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever 220
Appendix: Common Conceptions of Eternity 229
Eternity: A Basic Bibliography 255