John Jeffries MartinOct 27, 2022
A Beautiful Ending
The Apocalyptic Imagination and the Making of the Modern World
Yale University Press 2022
Professor Martin’s A Beautiful Ending: The Apocalyptic Imagination and the Making of the Modern World (Yale, 2022) is a survey of Early Modern European history from the Age of Discovery to the French Revolution with two important distinctions. First, Professor Martin views modernity through the enduring dream of the Apocalypse (which he calls the “stamp of modernity,” 250); second, he compares the Christian philosophy of the Apocalypse to the views of the two other great European religious traditions in this era—Judaism and Islam. The result is a magisterial survey of the age that presents familiar stories examined from a new angle.
Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike understood the rapidly-changing, modern world they shared in terms of their common Abrahamic faith with its messianic elements, or “Apocalyptic Braid” (13). And, in addition, Christian Habsburgs and Muslim Ottomans entertained competing narratives of World Empire contested on continental battlefields and in the Mediterranean Sea as well as in literature. The Beautiful Ending ultimately was both the balm for the terrible uncertainties of the age but also a motivation for the modern Europeans to shape their own destiny—a motivation that Professor Martin argues has remained with us until today—“the idea that we are not simply made by history but also make history continues to stem from faith, and it matters little whether or not this faith is religious” (247).
John Jeffries Martin is a historian of early modern Europe at Duke University. He specializes in social, cultural, and intellectual history of Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He is the author of Venice’s Hidden Enemies: Italian Heretics in a Renaissance City (1993), which won the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association, Myths of Renaissance Individualism (2004), as well as this book, A Beautiful Ending. He is the author of over 50 articles and essays and several edited volumes, including The Renaissance World (2007).
After recording this interview about history for the New Books in History Podcast, Krzysztof Odyniec and John Jeffries Martin recorded a second conversation about Apocalypse from the Early Modern period to the present day for the Almost Good Catholics podcast; the link is here.
Krzysztof Odyniec is a historian of the Early Modern Europe and the Atlantic World, specializing in sixteenth-century diplomacy and travel. His forthcoming book is Diplomacy at the Edges of Empires: Johannes Dantiscus in Spain, 1519-1352 (published by Brepols). He also hosts and produces the Almost Good Catholics podcast.