Selected by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most influential works of non-fiction published since World War II.
Greeted by Isaiah Berlin on its publication in 1957 as “a work of the first water,” The Pursuit of the Millennium presented a strikingly new interpretation of historical forces, and compelled a re-evaluation of Europe’s past. The book tells the story of revolutionary and anarchic sects and movements in Medieval Europe, starting in the time of the Crusades and ending with the Anabaptists in the sixteenth century. It shows how the desire of the poor to improve their material conditions became transfused with prophecies of a final struggle between the hosts of Christ and the hosts of the Antichrist. Out of this struggle a new world was to emerge: another paradise or Kingdom of Saints.
Inspired by such prophecies, the earliest movements of the poor set off on people’s crusades or flagellant processions. These often led to the massacre of Jews. Later movements turned against the Christian clergy itself as well as the rich, blending prophecy with the teachings of various anarchist sects. By the close of the Middle Ages, Professor Cohn shows, certain groups were planning to exterminate the wealthy in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ, and to impose an anarcho-communistic order on the whole world. In a brilliant concluding section, Cohn analyzes the significance of these medieval fantasies and strivings and suggests how these phenomena relate to revolutionary movements of the twentieth century.
For the expanded edition, published in 1970 and reprinted here, the author revised and extended several chapters of the earlier book. He also added an entirely new chapter and updated the bibliography.
Praise for The Pursuit of the Millennium
“A piece of great originality and power”
Sir Isaiah Berlin
“Great learning and an admirably lively style .Professor Cohn’s work throws a flood of light into unexplored corners...”
“Norman Cohn is the historian of important parts of history other historians do not reach.”
About the Author
Norman Cohn (1915-2007) was born in London and educated at Christ Church, Oxford. After teaching stints at several universities in England and Scotland, he became professor of history at the University of Sussex. In addition to his work on millenarian movements, Cohn did historical research on the issues of anti-Semitism and genocide. Among his other books are Warrant for Genocide (1967), a study of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgeries, and Europe’s Inner Demons: An Enquiry Inspired by the Great Witch-Hunt (1976).