NOSTRADAMUS: The Man Behind the Prophecies

Ian Wilson, Author . St. Martin's $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-31790-4

The 16th-century astrologer Michel de Nostredame, known as Nostradamus, has attracted mostly promoters or detractors. In this book, offered for the 500-year anniversary of his birth, Wilson intends to uncover the historical person rather than evaluate his success or failure as a prognosticator. Wilson (The Turin Shroud) coaxes details out of a handful of sources and sorts through the available bits of contradictory information about Nostradamus. The resulting work is thin, however, offering no great depth in recreating the era and missing an opportunity to examine the relation between early modern science and the occult. Wilson cheerfully admits he knew little about his subject before beginning this work. He criticizes earlier authors for not using an astrological chart made for the future Emperor Rudolf II or a prolific letter writer's archive but finds himself, through admitted language deficiencies or time constraints, also unable to use them. The book lingers on details only tangentially related to its subject, including extended sections on Rabelais and various royalty. Some parts read like a travelogue, describing the buildings and monuments of the towns where Nostradamus lived and traveled, letting potential visitors know what they'll find in the wax museum at Nostradamus's home. The greatest service this book offers is to insist on treating Nostradamus as a man rather than a mysterious presence. In the end, however, Wilson spends considerable space disproving particular predictions, and comments generally that "astrology is all quackery," but is not able to explain why Nostradamus nonetheless remains such a lasting influence. 80 b&w illus. (Dec. 8)

Reviewed on: 09/29/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-312-31791-1
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4668-6737-6
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