The Last Myth by Mathew Barrett Gross and Mel Gilles (book review).

As usual with many of Prometheus Book titles, ‘The Last Myth’s sub-title gives more about the product than the main title which doesn’t really isolate the subject matter. In this case it’s ‘What The Rise Of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us About America’. Initially, this sounds like an odd quandary in that it is the old world mythologies that have apocalypses but from the looks of things, it’s the Americans who believe in it.

In the introduction, writers Mathew Barrett Gross and Mel Gilles reminds the reader that the Mayan end of the world is at the end of 2012 but also of the bizarre fact that 59% of the US population, up nearly 20% since 2006, believe in the biblical ‘Revelations’ that the Apocalypse is due, citing 9/11 and Katrina amongst others are showing the signs. Even the Y2K computer virus is included in this, which makes you wonder if people thought that in biblical times, prophets had computers? Interestingly, the writers point out that although a disaster didn’t happen, they do point out that it gave an important up-grade to computer security systems in a big way as being the only thing beneficial out of the matter. No apocalyptic death by computer though.

A couple months back, I commented about the contradiction in how a technology advanced country as the USA is so deeply religious or rather this also included people not wanting to upset those who are in their country that they allow creationalism to be taught in some schools. Whether this is how many Americans react publicly than in private has yet to be decided although when the statement, ‘God bless America’, is phrased from the President (not just the current one), you have to wonder on how religion is being subtly re-enforced. Considering the British national anthem also refers to God, I doubt if few of my countrymen take it quite so seriously or impose the sentiment on those who choose not to believe in it.

With ‘The Last Myth’, there is an investigation of the American belief in the Apocalypse. Like with other religious sects that forecast doom on a particular date and then find it doesn’t, one will have to wonder how it will affect them when it doesn’t stick to schedule. You can almost count on them being disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

There are a lot of things I’ve learnt from this book. In the Bible, God offers different terms of contract to Abraham and Daniel. The Greeks committed great atrocities against the Jews when they forced them to abandon their religion in 170BC, although this didn’t last after they finally revolted. After Christianity regained its foothold against the Romans in 66AD, the Jews also thought this would herald Christ’s return. Today, 40% of the American population believe Christ will return in their life-time and 6% of us Brits believe the Bible to be literal in comparison. How vital this 40% is to American’s technical advancement or are world-movers isn’t noted. Increasingly, as I read this book, I couldn’t help feel that the USA is becoming increasingly third world in their beliefs and someone really needs to look at their educational needs, if for no other reason than ensuring they get a more balanced look at life.

Just in case you think this book is all about the Bible, the authors make a strong case against 24 hour American news channels that raise the awareness of violent crimes 600% despite the fact that in reality such crimes have dropped 20%. I had a think about that observation and wonder that showing so much might actually have turned some people off the idea, especially as they also point out that these channel watchers have become over-sensitive to such issues. Don’t know about you folk across the pond, but if you haven’t gleaned enough about the current news after half an hour on a news channel, what are you doing watching it for hours on end? Then again, this goes against the channel-hoppers that Americans are alleged to be rather than stay on a channel, hoping for something to come up to attract their attention. From my conversations with Americans I know, many see it as background noise unless something draws their attention.

The excessive notes at the back of the book did reveal some interesting info, some of which I wish had been included in the main text. Like 24% of bottled water is just repackaged tap water at 9,000% mark-up and there’s a lot of plastic bottles wasted rather than recycled. Just goes to show a large proportion of the American population can be conned. Compared to other countries that average about 5% of their funding on military, the USA spend some 47% on theirs.

Regarding the notes in general here. The vast majority are reference to the original source material. Surely, with the rest, it would have made sense to have them on the relevant pages instead than having to sift them out?

The last few chapters seem to have run out of steam on the subject and I wish they had explored more about the nature of their countrymen as to why this belief in the apocalypse prevails so much. I doubt this book will attract the 40% readers whom this is the subject. Certainly, it needs something being done or these percentages are going to grow but I doubt if this book will do it, but might lead to books that might. An interesting dig that could go a lot further.

GF Willmetts

November 2012


(pub: Prometheus Books. 254 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-573-6)

check out websites: http://www.pyrsf.com/ and www.LastMyth.com



Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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