Books by Ian Wilson

Released: Dec. 18, 2003

"Generally fair-minded treatment of a character with an enduring hold on the popular imagination."
A new biography of the famous French astrologer, based on many original sources. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 12, 2002

"A bold revision of ancient history that is well worth reading, even if its conclusions sometimes overshoot the evidence."
A blend of archaeological fact and anthropological speculation by Australian historian Wilson. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1998

A stubborn but unconvincing apologia for the author's persistent belief that the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial shroud of Jesus. Wilson has penned two other defenses of the shroud (The Turin Shroud, 1978, and The Evidence of the Shroud, 1986), but both of those books were published before 1988, when scientists determined through radiocarbon dating that the shroud was made from 14th-century linen and so could not be Jesus— burial clothing. After a decade of reformulating his theory, Wilson is back, as vociferous as ever. This book is testimony not so much to the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin but to the veracity of Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance: When presented with evidence that their beliefs are impossible or their predictions unrealizable, individuals will cling to their long-cherished convictions that much more tenaciously rather than relinquish them. Wilson just refuses to let this issue die, attempting instead to cast doubt on the scientific procedures that first declared the shroud to be spurious. Any imagination utilized in this book is reserved for the subject matter, not the writing style. Most chapters have rhetorical questions as titles: —Cunning Painting—or Genuine Gravecloth?— (Genuine.) Or: —Carbon Dating, Right or Wrong?— (Dead wrong.) Wilson is particularly interested in the imprint of Jesus on the shroud, which he claims is —a 2000-year old photograph of him as he lay in death.— Despite his own intense certitude, Wilson tries to be evenhanded, never openly excoriating those who hold other views. In the last chapter, he invites readers to examine their own hearts on the matter, and raises a far more interesting question than that of the shroud's authenticity: Why should we care? The book is unlikely to persuade the skeptics Wilson is clearly trying to reach, but never fear; he will almost certainly write more on the subject. (illustrations) Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 5, 1994

In his search for the historical Bard of Avon, religious historian Wilson (Jesus: The Evidence, 1991) penetrates the Elizabethan stage's shadow world with some success but tendentiously turns Shakespeare into a cypher for crypto-Catholic theories. Beginning with scholarly straw men (the Francis Bacon theories of authorship and the Stratford tourism version of Shakespeare), Wilson delves deeply into Shakespeare studies to recreate the world of the acting company, suggesting with some justification that the apprentice bard may have acted more important roles in much more elaborate and historically accurate productions in the newly discovered Rose theater than previously believed; Wilson also describes the bustling Elizabethan literary life of competitive poets and noble patrons. In a conjectural opening move for his crypto-Catholic theory, Wilson proposes the possibly recusant noble Ferdinando Stanley as Shakespeare's mysterious first patron who introduced him into the conspiracy-ridden court scene, which would later involve the playwright with the Essex rebellion. While Wilson rightly cites the uncertain post-Reformation stance of provincial Stratford, he oversimplifies the breadth and complexity of the Elizabethan experience with Catholic revisionism and reads highly tenuous interpretations into Shakespeare's texts, such as dubious references to Mary, Queen of Scots in King John or a pro-Jesuit reading of the porter scene in Macbeth. Most disingenuously Wilson obscures well-known evidence conflicting with his theory: He avoids the paper trail of an early multi-authored play, The Booke of Sir Thomas More, that links Shakespeare with Anthony Munday, a literary hack whom Wilson consistently vilifies for his pro-Protestant Elizabethan espionage; and he omits the fact that the London family whom Shakespeare lodged with for many years were Huguenots—which would have been an absurd risk for a recusant. Despite unearthing some controversial historical possibilities, Wilson ultimately displays as much wishful thinking in making Shakespeare a crypto-Catholic as others have in attributing his plays to Francis Bacon. (54 b&w photos, not seen; 14 figures) Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1991

British journalist Wilson has built a career around the Turin shroud (The Mysterious Shroud, 1986) and other religious arcana (The After-Death Experience, 1989, etc.). Astonished by the 1988 carbon-dating findings that the shroud—which carries a life-size image of a crucified man popularly believed to be Jesus—appears to be a medieval forgery, Wilson now turns to the puzzle of where and when the idea of an ``imprint of Jesus'' on cloth originated. After an informative romp through the halls of Christian art, he winds up where he started, suggesting that—lo!—the ``discredited'' shroud is in fact the key. The most important clue traced by Wilson is that of the ``Veronica'' face. Legend has it that shortly before the crucifixion, Jesus left the image of his face on a cloth given to him by St. Veronica. Would-be ``Veronicas'' abound; the most impressive—unseen by Wilson, but not for lack of trying— reportedly lies in a secret chamber in one of the piers supporting St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Wilson untangles the knots within knots that bind the history of the Veronicas, concluding that their origins lie in a much earlier relic (pre-1000 A.D.) known as the ``holy face of Edessa,'' which may in turn be none other than our old friend, the Shroud of Turin. But how can this be? As Wilson demonstrates, carbon-dating is terribly inexact, especially when contaminants (one major fire and centuries of candle-smoke, not to mention the tears of believers) have corrupted the object under study. Conclusion: the Turin shroud lives, ``part of a cosmic drama not yet played out.'' Admirable for its doggedness, scholarship, and sensitive handling of a real hot-potato. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 21, 1989

Judicious survey of current beliefs about survival after death. Wilson (The Mysterious Shroud, 1986, etc.) begins clumsily, stitching together a grab bag of funereal practices—Egyptians and Incans practiced mummification, Irish erected megaliths, Neanderthals sprinkled flowers on their corpses—to demonstrate the universality of belief in an afterlife. With this haphazard framework established, he then delivers a set of incisive, often skeptical reports on a number of currently fashionable figures and persuasions. Psychical researcher lan Stevenson, the leading American proponent of reincarnation, is pilloried for gullibility and sloppy scholarship. Doris Stokes, an immensely popular British medium, is uncloaked as a fraud. On the other hand, Wilson calls hauntings the "most truly substantial evidence" for survival and spins some good ghost stories to back his claim. He also accepts as veridical most accounts of near-death experience, and sees telepathy and brain research as providing further indications of a nonphysical component to the self. Unexpected blasts against abortion and euthanasia (based on accumulated evidence for the existence of a soul) add a touch of moral fervor to an otherwise evenhanded study. Hardly definitive—presumably, you'd have to be dead to really know what you're talking about—but a fairly intriguing, entertaining patchwork. Read full book review >