Damian Thompson

Nothing to Fear

Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs Throughout the Ages

By

Hutchinson 288pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Dr William Ullathorne, the first Catholic Bishop of Birmingham, was once asked to recommend a book about humility. He thought about it for a minute, then said judiciously: ‘My own is the best.’ A couple of years ago, I published a general history of millenarianism, and if anyone had asked me to recommend a book on the subject I would probably have responded as immodestly as the good bishop. But here comes Eugen Weber with a study of apocalypses down the ages which – he says through gritted teeth – it at least as good as any of its competitors.

More to the point, it is refreshingly different. That is because Weber, author of a much admired history of France in the 1930s, relies heavily on French-language sources. The result is a hugely entertaining sequence of apocalyptic visions which, while every bit as preposterous as their better-known American counterparts, are doused in the subtle perfume of Gallic fantasy. Thus we hear, for example, from the Parisian society hostess-cum-prophetess Baroness Julie von Krüdener (1764–1824), who declared in 1814 that the world was ‘dancing on a volcano’: soon, she added, masters would wash vegetables for their supper and fetch water from the well while ‘all the servant girls will walk about in silken dresses’. Only in France could the apocalypse feature fresh vegetables and haute couture.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,