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We all know the name Nostradamus, but who was he really? Why did his predictions become so influential in Renaissance Europe and then keep resurfacing for nearly five centuries? And what does Nostradamus’s endurance in the West say about us and our own world?
In Nostradamus: How an Obscure Renaissance Astrologer Became the Modern Prophet of Doom, historian Stéphane Gerson takes readers on a journey back in time to explore the life and afterlife of Michel de Nostredame, the astrologer whose Prophecies have been interpreted, adopted by successive media, and eventually transformed into the Gospel of Doom for the modern age. Whenever we seem to enter a new era, whenever the premises of our worldview are questioned or imperiled, Nostradamus offers certainty and solace. In 1666, guests at posh English dinner parties discussed his quatrain about the Great Fire of London. In 1942, the Jewish writer Irène Némirovsky latched her hopes for survival to Nostradamus’ prediction that the war would soon end. And on September 12, 2001, teenagers proclaimed on the streets of Brooklyn that “this guy, Nostradamus” had seen the 9/11 attacks coming.
Through prodigious research in European and American archives, Gerson shows that Nostradamus — a creature of the modern West rather than a vestige from some antediluvian era — tells us more about our past and our present than about our future. In chronicling the life of this mystifying figure and the lasting fascination with his predictions, Gerson’s book becomes a historical biography of a belief: the faith that we can know tomorrow and master our anxieties through the powers of an extraordinary but ever more elusive seer.
About the Author
Stéphane Gerson is a cultural historian of modern France and the editor of a new edition of Nostradamus's Prophecies for Penguin Classics. He has won several awards, including the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History and the Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies. He has also contributed to Publishers Weekly and the Jewish Daily Forward. Gerson teaches French history at New York University and lives in Manhattan and Woodstock, NY, with his family.
Praise for Nostradamus…
“Fascinating and extensively researched.”—The Washington Post
“A solid and enlightening story of a man who, whether you believe the pro-prophecy crowd or not, led a fascinating life.”—Booklist
“Gerson deftly explains the lure of Nostradamus.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A vibrant and vivid account of a complex humanist of untold sympathy and generosity. Gerson leads us through a life mirroring the Renaissance: its humanism, its religious strife, its mix of occult and nascent science, and its poetry. With uncommon clarity and elegance Gerson draws into his portrait of Nostradamus events of his own life and ours. This eminently accessible and informative biography is also an enthralling history: it unravels the enigmas of a heralded individual responding to the doubt and fear about a world that are cause for us to reflect on our own.”—Tom Conley, Abbot Lawrence Lowell Professor, Depts. of Romance Languages and Visual/Environmental Studies, Harvard University
“In this brave and impeccable work of scholarship, Stéphane Gerson accomplishes what dozens of writers have failed to for generations: he brings a truly engaging and incisive reckoning to the life and afterlife of Nostradamus. Gerson's book is a historical journey that will leave you by turns delighted and astonished. It is difficult to imagine it being surpassed.”—Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America: White House Séances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and The Secret Mystic History of Our Nation
“Stéphane Gerson's Nostradamus is an exemplary piece of scholarship and critical sophistication. This book represents the best of cultural studies and is a must for anyone interested in early modern studies and its importance today. Reading Gerson is an extraordinary intellectual adventure.”—Lawrence D. Kritzman, John D. Willard Prof of French and Comparative Literature, Dartmouth College
“Stéphane Gerson has written a remarkable book about a renaissance astrologer and prophet, whose pithy but obscure predictions garnered as many devotees as denouncers. Gerson’ immaculately-researched, beautifully-written, and thought-provoking work unearths the story of Nostradramus’ life, and then traces his undying allure over five succeeding centuries. Nostradamus came back into vogue when the world seemed out of kilter, whether it be the Great Fire of London, the French Revolution, World War II or in the aftermath of 9/11. Gerson does more, though, than chart the re-appearance of fear and disorientation. He analyses, above all, why and how Nostradamus’ quatrains continue to fascinate, console and repel.”—Ruth Harris, Professor of Modern History, New College, Oxford University