Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife
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Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  187 ratings  ·  62 reviews
A groundbreaking and accessible history of heaven—from the earliest biblical conceptions of the afterlife to the theologians who frame our understandings to the convictions and perceptions of everyday people

Drawing on history and popular culture, biblical research and everyday beliefs, Heaven offers a new understanding of one of the most cherished—and shared—ideals of spir...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 23rd 2010 by Harper
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As you probably could guess, as an atheist I am largely disappointed with Lisa Miller’s Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. The book was endorsed by the popular atheist author Sam Harris, so I thought I’d give it a read.

I thought it would provide a critical analysis of how and why people believe in the concept of Heaven. Instead, the book is more about Miller’s journey to the questions, What do people of the mainly monotheistic religions believe about Heaven, and how do they ac...more
Lee Harmon
I’ve found my soul sister! Meet Lisa Miller, a self-described journalist, religion expert, and professional skeptic. She sometimes wants to believe, but it isn’t in her. She misses her grandparents, and wishes she could picture them contentedly up there in heaven waiting for her, but she just can’t. Her journey in this book to learn about heaven may have been spurred by a certain emptiness.

In search of heaven, Lisa interviews dozens of people, from rock musicians to homemakers to heavy-hitting t...more
Will Byrnes
What is your vision of heaven, presuming, of course, that you have one? Harps and angels, great swaths of light, one’s ancestors waiting in a reception line? There are plenty of notions from which to cobble together an image. How did the practice of ancestor worship, and its suppression lead to notions of heaven? How did notions from diverse religions regarding life after death influence each other? Where does the expression 7th heaven come from? How do scientific understandings of the universe...more
Pierre A Renaud
Mar 17, 2013 Pierre A Renaud marked it as reshelved
"Yet there is an unthinking "respect" automatically accorded to religious ideas that throttles our ability to think clearly about these questions. Miller's book – after being a useful exposition of these ideas – swiftly turns itself into a depressing illustration of this. She describes herself as a "professional sceptic", but she is, in fact, professionally credulous. Instead of trying to tease out what these fantasies of an afterlife reveal about her interviewees, she quizzes everyone about the...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
I approached the book as a non-believer in any of the Big Three religions responsible for the idea of Heaven in the first place. I want always to keep my antennae out for changes in their belief systems, since the Big Three have a history of disliking people like me, and the only way to do that is to read up on where things began. Can't recongize change if you don't have a picture of the starting point, can you?

Ideas of Heaven have always seemed so...well, silly is the only word I have for it......more
Dean Anderson
When I was a little kid, first grade or so, I had a nightmare about Chilly Willie, the penguin cartoon character. Chilly was out in the ocean and he drowned. But that wasn't the scary part. The scary part was seeing the bird sitting on a cloud in heaven. And he was going to be there, doing nothing for ever. That boredom was what scared me.
That's why I was happy to see that Lisa Miller, in her book Heaven (Harper Collins 2010), included a chapter entitled "Is Heaven Boring?" Because a lot of adu...more
Jeff Crompton
This is a somewhat difficult book to review, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, previous reviewers have said much of what I was thinking about saying, sometimes in almost the exact words I was planning to use. Reading Heaven got pretty tiresome after a while, mostly due, ironically, to Miller's even-handed approach. She interviews Christians, Jews, and Muslims - clerics and laymen alike - and relays a bewildering variety of opinions about the afterlife patiently and sympathetically.

She cer...more
Jeanette Thomason
Fascinating look at thoughts, beliefs, and imagination of eternity from an author who says she does not believe in Heaven. I love that Lisa Miller primes what theologians, the common woman and man, famous personalities, artists, poets, preachers, scholars, scientists, and legend have said about Heaven over the ages. Her very exploration makes me believe she has doubts of an eternal Paradise, but is in want of it; this book helps me clarify my own thinking and beliefs, while not agreeing with her...more
Despite having heard of this book and its author, it took the push of my book club to make me read Miller's Heaven. Once I picked it up, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.

I'm perpetually wary of journalists who pursue topics generally reserved for academics and that's what initially kept me from reading this. Miller has no religion degree or history degree... She's a journalist with years of experience writing about religion.

But Miller proves to be a competent researcher. She is looking for...more
Paul Patterson
May 29, 2012 Paul Patterson rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Interested in Comparative views
Recommended to Paul by: Audible Books

Lisa Miller gives us readers an extremely entertaining, educative and vulnerable exploration into the plethora of views regarding heaven. She is a Reformed Jew and editor of Newsweek's religion section. Miller isn’t committed to a firm belief in Heaven but definitely manages to elicit our hopes for a meaningful life... and perhaps more. I haven’t read any treatment of heaven that is more conversationally readable than this book. With genuine interest and tolerance the author listens to a variety...more
Summary: An examination of Western civilization's interaction with the concept of "heaven" particularly through the lens of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this book a lot. I liked seeing how notions of heaven evolved throughout the centuries to address the concerns of people (for example, the domestic idea of heaven as a place where we are reunited with family really only comes from the past two centuries). And I liked seeing how people throughout time have grappled with th...more
Lightly written in a journalistic style, this book is an extensive survey of contemporary views of the afterlife. Although Miller provides some historical and theological background to the orthodox views of the three Abrahamic faiths (including their evolution over time and their variants), this is not a scholarly work. Is more sociology than theology. Is based primarily on a wealth of interviews with an wide range of people - from clerical spokesmen to "spirit channelers" - encompassing a host...more
There were parts of this book that I enjoyed a lot. I had never really thought before about whether or not heaven was a physical place, for example. And if so, where is it located, exactly? Do we have bodies there? Are they our resurrected physical bodies, or are we spirits? How do we look? Like we did when we died, or how we did when we were young and healthy?

I liked reading about different religion's - and individual people's - ideas of heaven. It was also interesting to learn why conceptions...more
Eliza Fayle
Lisa does not set out to define heaven. What she does do is provide us with a wide range of descriptions based on history, biblical research, art, and people’s beliefs. Also, while acknowledging there are more religions and spiritualities than you can shake a stick at, she confines her research to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. She does so because Christians, Jews and Muslims all share a common belief about heaven. It is God’s home.

If Lisa is not trying to determine exactly where heaven is an...more
Rebecca Schwarz
It seems like some people didn't like this book because they were looking for some kind of argument -or proof- of heaven. Miller is a journalist who covers religion, and in this book she set out to talk with people from many faiths about what they imagined heaven might be. She also covers what different religious groups have thought of heaven throughout history. To my eye, she wasn't in any way misleading about what she wanted to explore, and I found it interesting. Since nobody really knows wha...more
This was a fantastic book.

I saw the author, Lisa Miller, on "The Colbert Report" and decided I had to order it. She had silver hair that made her look anywhere between thirty and sixty and my mom noted "I want to be her friend."

So, with high expectations, I read "Heaven" and was not disappointed. I have been interested in religion (Steven Prothero's "Religious Literacy" is on my to-read list) and this was a entertaining way to learn about the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianit...more
Michael Milton
This book benefits enormously from it journalistic rather than apologetic style. Its scope is vast even though its style is breezy. Most of the Christianity content was already familiar to me, but I learned quite a lot once she talked about other religions. This book would be useful and entertaining for anyone.

The first piece of praise on the back cover is from Karen Armstrong, and the second is from Sam Harris. I was all set for the third to be from some sort of evangelical but, alas, no evang...more
Fascinating book about how modern culture's view of heaven has been shaped. The author covered the religion beat for the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. The writing is very good and the book flows quickly. She covers a lot of territory starting with pre-history, the Greeks and then moving to the Jewish people, Muslims, and reincarnation.
Melissa S.
Mar 05, 2013 Melissa S. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Melissa by: anyone
Wonderful and engaging. Miller did a great job talking about just about every angle on the topic of heaven and how it has changed and evolved through the centuries. I appreciated the open view of orthodox religions as well as their more open-minded counterparts. The author did her best to remain objective and present each view fairly, without adding her own bias. That was refreshing! This is a wonderful read for anyone interested in learning more about the views of others as well as thinking mor...more
Starts off strong with an explanation of how heaven, as we know it, gradually came about from an evolution of primitive Judaic beliefs coming into union with pagan and Hellenic influences. The afterlife of King David would be very much at odds with our current understanding of it, were we to compare the two.

Afterwards, however, it becomes a rather mundane overview of the concept as seen from several religions, the general geist of which I was well aware of beforehand, and I think most people wit...more
I didn't realize I had some sort of expectation for this book until I realized that I was disappointed after reading it. While Miller is a good writer, has done her research and presents a coherent set of ideas, I just wan't grabbed. Concepts of heaven have plenty of history in Christianity, Judiasm and Islam - so the book felt particularly religion-heavy. But then again, what was I expecting?

I suppose I found it a bit bland, that's all - I bet plenty of other will have and will enjoy this book...more
It was like reading a New York TImes Magazine article that happened to go on for 200 plus pages; what with all the "I met Professor X, a cherub-like Grandfather figure with a twinkle in his eyes on foggy Christmas eve with snow settling on the branches of the pine trees..." Blah, blah, blah. It's cute the first time, but I didn't need a weather report and Disney Channel like character description for every interview conducted!

Interesting subject got me through this Newsweeky book.
Joshunda Sanders
Lisa Miller, Newsweek's religion editor, is an adept reporter and an effective writer. This is evident, in particular, because a topic like Heaven can lend itself to histrionics and she keeps a level, skeptical and sometimes, personal, perspective that lends gravity and light to her reporting. She talks to monastics, scholars, channelers, and ordinary people to figure out how people mostly think of heaven, if they do, and what they imagine it to be. It's a compelling book.
I wanted to really sink my teeth into this, but I never really did. The organizational structure confused me, and the focus on only western religious traditions left me unsatisfied. Then when discussing a religious tradition with which I am very familiar, Miller made some factual errors based (I infer) from an unreliable source, which made me question whether there were others. Overall, an interesting topic, but for me an unsatisfying exploration of it.
Fascinating book touching base on the view of heaven from several different religions. I didn't really connect with it much, because the majority is spent discussing Judaism and Islam beliefs.
Sue Wargo
Did the audio version of the book and found it fascinating. It tell the story of heaven through the ages and the varying viewpoints of the different world faiths. This is told from a pragmatic approach and not a religious one which I found refreshing. If you really wonder whether there is a heaven or already believe in one, this book will challenge you and reinforce your beliefs. I highly recommend this book.
A fascinating attempt to define heaven that raises more questions than it lays to rest. The author is a skeptic but does not set out to prove or disprove its existence... she seems to draw the conclusion that one's idea of heaven depends on a variety of cultural, religious and historical factors. By the end of the book it took a turn into the question of heaven as a study of the character of God.
Fluffy, I suppose, not very theological, but nevertheless, I enjoyed this book and read it fairly quickly. The images and stories in the book are well chosen, the topic is always timely, and I think this book would greatly help a person grieving the loss of a loved one by glimpsing their heavenly reward and our prospect for being reunited with the people we love.
Really interesting to learn about different religious views and interpretations of heaven. However, it ended with an all-too-familiar 'we're all okay and as long as we like each other & smile, nothing else really matters' stance. you can't create your own reality. Or, you can, but it won't last. As Peter Kreeft says 'tolerance is not love'.
Aug 10, 2011 Mary added it
I was very interested in this book after seeing Lisa Miller on the Colbert Report. Anytime someone can keep their cool in the face of Stephen, they are worthy of attention. I found this book very informative and unexpectedly poignant. I also loved the fact the the Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia were both referenced.
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