I was shocked when I went to find a scholarly biography of Nostradamus on how few actually existed. Finally, I located Nostradamus: The Man Behind The Prophecies by Ian Wilson. I got lucky with my choice for this is an honest look – with the eyes of a skeptic – at who Nostradamus really was.
For those who don’t know Nostradamus, he was a Frenchman who gained the trust of European courts and the people as a seer-doctor. His prophecies are still in high demand and his reputation rivals that of an Old Testament prophet. The question focused on in this book though is who was he really, and does he deserve that reputation?
Ian Wilson tells how he received the call to do this book after 9-11 and was equally shocked at how little subjective material had been done on Nostradamus. There are biographies that set out to prove Nostradamus was the ultimate seer and others to discredit him at every turn. Hardly any though that take a non-bias view like this author. Even the prophecies, as Mr. Wilson points out, are often compiled with an ulterior motive. Something to keep in mind if you go to buy a compilation.
This was a fairly easy read for such a complex subject. Ian Wilson relied upon original materials – personal letters etc – that often haven’t been detailed in centuries if ever at all. (There is ground breaking research in this book). He also did a good job of translating sayings or quotes from the original languages that had originally been penned in Latin or Old French. In one case he tells how he came across German correspondence that even Germans couldn’t even translate.
By not focusing on the prophecies and instead concentrating on the man, you gain a good glimpse of what every day life was like in rural France during this period. You also learn about what it took become a doctor, what the law required in order to publish a book (a relatively new industry), and how things were marketed. I was fascinated to learn that Nostradamus was in his day more famous for a yearly almanac he produced than his long-range prophecies. Ian Wilson does a good job of describing just how vital these common almanacs were in Europe during this period.
You also learn about his family, friends, and home life. You learn there were character flaws. Even a prophet carries with him human traits. Two very unique items were related in the last two chapters though which I will share.
I have covered a lot of material on WWII and toward the end of this book, I discovered I learned something new. Wilson goes into specific detail of how a trio of characters in Germany and England, played a vital role in the propaganda war of WWII simply because they were into astrology and one of them happened to write a book on Nostradamus before the war started. This subject was almost worthy of a novel of it’s own.
Then there was this little tidbit which I just found….. well, let’s say odd. As I stated earlier, Mr. Wilson was hired in the aftermath of 9/11 and the resurgence of interest in all things related to Nostradamus and things prophetic. He recalls how the atmosphere was crazy at best. Here is a paragraph from the book he uses to show the mindset of the time:
“Some undeniably strange ‘coincidences’ amongst the numbers involved heightened the sense of some Armageddon-like destiny unfolding. Given the fact that the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers resembled a huge ’11’ on New York’s waterfront, was it not strange that the clearly pre-planned date of the attack was September 11? That the first plane to hit the towers was Flight 11? That this had 92 passengers on board, 9 plus 2 equalling, 11? That the second plane to hit had 65 passengers on board, 6 plus 5 equalling 11? That New York was the eleventh state to have joined the American Union, that ‘New York City’ comprises eleven letters, as does ‘Afghanistan’ as does (although no one to my knowledge mentioned it at the time) ‘Nostradamus’…
I’m sure some conspiracy theorist out there knew that. Like I said, the author used it as an example of the environment that one enters when dealing with a subject like Nostradamus. I appreciated the author’s healthy skepticism and effort to stay rooted in facts that are backed up with evidence. If you’re interested in one of the most famous astrologers in history, Nostradamus, then I would recommend this book for you.