It may be that, despite wars, revolutions, genocides, and jihad, there are still a few trusting souls who believe that modernity, technological progress, and reason move forward together in bright, benign convoy. If so, they cannot have read Heaven on Earth, an ideal tough love gift for any Candides of your acquaintance. In it, Richard Landes describes the past, present, and probable future of millennialism, the umbrella term for a collection of beliefs in a world overturned and remade that has resonated, seductive and destructive, through the ages. It is a bracing and instructive read, if not always an easy one. Landes is an associate professor of history at Boston University, one of today’s academic priesthood. Like most clerics he has a weakness for the mumbo-jumbo that empowers his caste. “Semiotic arousal”? No thanks.

But it’s worth hacking your way through the jargon. The insight and impressive breadth...


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