Cultural historian Gerson (History/New York Univ.; The Pride of Place: Local Memories and Political Culture in Modern France, 2003, etc.) shares his vast knowledge of and fascination with the legendary seer. The author attempts to explain how Nostradamus' (1503–1566) mystique has endured for more than five centuries. Trained as a doctor, he found that writing almanacs was much more to his pleasure, and this interest eventually begat his most famous work, Prophecies. He categorized his quatrains in groups of 100 and wrote a total of 942, although new ones appeared after his death. Nostradamus eventually became a good excuse for disasters, and few were above writing quatrains in his style; he was a matter of wonder and public amusement as well as an answer to anxieties and fears. While he was a Catholic of Jewish heritage, he never really accepted a religion, cult or political faction. The growth of communications in the 16th century enabled his writings to proliferate throughout his native France and elsewhere in Europe. Like the Oracle at Delphi, Nostradamus' quatrains are worded so that interpretation is just a matter of the reader's tendencies. There are few dates in any of his work, and he wrote in veiled terms, switched verbs and often changed tenses. While some of his obscurity could have been involuntary, it is much more likely that he did it deliberately. He also predicted that he would have detractors, and his mysterious death only adds to his mystique. Gerson deftly explains the lure of Nostradamus, but no one can possibly translate his verses. Just like poetry, only the author knows what he meant.
“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