"The turn of the century raises expectations. The end of a millennium promises apocalypse and revelation. But at the close of the 20th century, the end game promises neither nirvana nor Armageddon, but entropy." So said British historian Robert Hewison in his now decade-old book Future Tense. He might have said: This is the way 2000 comes, not with a bang but a whimper.
If we're inclined to take the couch-potato's view of the millennium -- the languid view -- perhaps it's because we are a culture so pushed to accelerate our present day that when too much fuss is made about our future or our past, all it makes us want to do is go sulk in our room.
Even so, there are a few books about the "M-word" we might take into our room with us. There's Eugen Weber's Apocalypses (Harvard, $24.95), which argues that since the day of Christ, cultures throughout the West, Asia and Africa have held an absolute belief in the end of time, complete with an apocalyptic battle between good and evil.
Longing for the End, by Frederic J. Baumgartner (St. Martin's, $26.95), covers similar ground. His is a history of millennialism from early Christianity to the demise of the Branch Davidians at Waco.
Victor Davis Hanson, a classics professor at California State University, has written The Soul of Battle (Free Press, $30), a volume that collapses the millennium by describing the military campaigns of three brilliant leaders: Epaminondas's descent into the Peloponnese (c. 370 BC), Sherman's march to the sea (1864), and Patton's race into Germany (1944). According to Hanson, there is an age-old Western tradition of "quickly mustering huge armies, to be led by eccentric fighters, on a moral trek into the heart of slavery."
On a more pacific note, Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden and Joel Hyatt claim in The Long Boom (Perseus, $26) that we are on the verge of unimagined prosperity and opportunity. Their book is a "history of the future," projecting mostly happy trends 20 years into the new millennium. Among the things we can look forward to: By 2020, they say, the average human lifespan will grow to 120 years.
For those who prefer to think small, there's David Hillman's and David Gibbs's Century Makers (Welcome Rain, $22.95), a book that celebrates the little groundbreakers we've come to take for granted, those "unsung heroes of everyday life": the paper cup, the zipper, traffic lights, lipstick, baby carriages, the paperclip, the bikini, and -- oh, wonder -- sliced bread.