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A Very Brief History of Eternity


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As learned as it is lively, Carlos Eire's A Very Brief History of Eternity traces the elusive history of a very big idea. Eire teaches us to understand our ways of thinking about the future--as well as the present and our past--with new clarity and insight. -- Anthony Grafton, Princeton University A Very Brief History of Eternity is vintage Eire: erudite and witty, profound and written with a light touch. Eire compellingly narrates the ways in which complex beliefs about eternity are intertwined with the way life is lived in time. It is an invitation to reflect on how eternity, even when it is absent from view, can make, as he puts it, 'a hell of a difference.' -- Miroslav Volf, Yale University Divinity School Carlos Eire doesn't disappoint. The breadth of detail, the depth of imagination, the ability to synthesize and to identify the telling example--and all for such an impossibly expansive topic as eternity--are astonishing. We get glimpses throughout of the creativity that graced his memoir of Cuba, and evidence everywhere of his massive learning. -- Craig Harline, author of "Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl" Carlos Eire's A Very Brief History of Eternity is precisely what you would expect from a formidable historian who is also an acclaimed memoirist. Strikingly erudite and profound yet accessible, this book will appeal to anyone who takes pleasure in being enlightened and entertained at the same time. -- Peter Iver Kaufman, University of Richmond

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix Acknowledgments xi 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 Notes 233 Eternity: A Basic Bibliography 255 Index 259

About the Author

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 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 Eire is an avuncular companion. While his subject may be beyond comprehension, Eire himself is imminently accessible and genuinely concerned for the reader's edification. And his dashes of humor, witty and sharp, are a welcoming leavening to a sometimes heavy read. Yet this book is ideal for lovers of The Big Idea, people who enjoy an author's attempt at explaining something they always thought about but didn't know what questions to ask, and people who enjoy reading about the most basic things, like being and nothingness, here and eternity. -- John Stoehr New Haven Advocate You could say that Carlos Eire goes on and on about eternity--but most of the time he does so informatively and entertainingly. And without sacrificing the intellectual rigour the subject requires. -- Steven Carroll The Age [The book] contains many good things and is especially good on the symbiosis between understandings of eternity and the ways the dead and the living relate. It is written in a relaxed and lively style. -- Paul J. Griffiths First Things Eire's erudite, engaging, and often witty history should interest anyone interested in Dickinson's 'Flood subject' (L319), as she called her understanding of immortality. -- Barbara Kelly EDIS Bulletin [Eire] writes with style, wearing his erudition lightly... A Very Brief History of Eternity achieves very well what it sets out to do: to enlighten while proceeding at pace. -- Reverend Dr. Andrew Davison Church Times A Very Brief History of Eternity ... is both erudite and entertaining. Eire's ability to explain complex ideas and to elucidate the ways in which concepts of eternity have affected the way human beings live as well as being themselves affected by human activity, have made the book popular among readers. While the topic chosen by Eire, eternity, is thought-provoking and momentous, requiring the readers' full attention, Eire saves his book from being too formidable a treatise with gentle humor and witty asides. -- Shawncey Webb Magill's Literary Annual A history of the concept of eternity in Western thought is a brilliantly original idea, and Carlos Eire makes complex ideas easily accessible. Eire is deeply learned in history, philosophy, theology, literature, language, and popular culture... [T]his is a book that deserves a lot of attention by historians, philosophers, and theologians, and it is written so clearly that it will also interest the literate public. -- Jeffrey Burton Russell Catholic Historical Review While his style is relaxed, he covers so much ground ... that readers will find and feel that, in its own way, the book is weighty... Eire knows that we know that one cannot think or write historically about eternity. So his book is a history of human questionings, ponderings, and sometimes foolishly or frighteningly bold dealings with the concept. What he finds and details, yes, briefly, should enrich the reflections of historians as they deal with time. -- Martin E. Marty Journal of Church History

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