cover image Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction

Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction

Clifford A. Pickover. Prometheus Books, $32.98 (400pp) ISBN 978-1-57392-895-3

Maybe it was fated that Pickover (The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits; etc.), a polymathic researcher and professional observer of the weird, would eventually write about the mysteries of divination; his 20-some popular books cover subjects as diverse as aliens, fractals and the nature of time. In this hefty but fast-paced work, Pickover's infectious enthusiasm spins unstoppably from the book's dedication (""to the New York Yankees, winners of the 2027 World Series"") to the appendices (containing, among other things, information on techniques for ooscopy, or reading eggs). Along the way he conducts a survey of some of history's most bizarre prediction practices for example, interpreting the holes in Swiss cheese and offers poker-faced instructions for aspiring home seers (e.g., ""the Do-It-Yourself Termite Oracle""). Further chapters offer some choice examples of prediction changing the course of history sometimes with tragic consequences and a compendium of Pickover's favorite prophets, a veritable Who's Who of kooks, including psychic detectives, conspiracy theorists and channelers tuning into everyone from Socrates to Barbie. Generally, Pickover's attitude is one of healthy skepticism; he stays firmly uncommitted to either fuzzy or seemingly scientific proofs of divination's efficacy. He even goes so far as to share some lighthearted experiments conducted on his Web site that demonstrate the public's gullibility. Nevertheless, true believers and skeptics alike cannot fail to be won over by Pickover's disarming affection for his subjects even at their most ridiculous. The human need for belief being perhaps the future's only certainty, this book should delight anyone who suspects truth is stranger than fiction, and everyone who has ever wished that the implausible were true. (Mar.)