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The legend of the renowned 16th-century prophet is permanently debunked by master debunker, prestidigitator, and author Randi (Flim-Flam!, 1980). Gleeful is the word to describe Randi's enthusiasm as he leads the reader on a merry chase through the library stacks in a search for the origins and validity of the Nostradamus legend. Establishing the seer's credentials as a bright student and capable physician in 16th-century Provencal, Randi then describes the growth of Michel de Notredame's fame--from his publication of a series of popular almanacs to that of Centuries, the predictive poetry that earned him a place in Queen Catherine's protected circle of astrological advisors and has kept ""Believers"" searching for hidden prophetic messages to this day. Avoiding the issue of whether or not Nostradamus was a deliberate poseur, Randi prefers to pounce on the prophet's admirers for embroidering on the original verse, inventing new quatrains, and otherwise imposing their own interpretations on highly ambiguous phrases in an effort to force them to match up to actual, later events. Randi points out that only if one believes hard enough can ""Hister""--a region of Provence mentioned in one quatrain--become ""Hitler""; Mont Gaulsier become the hot-air-balloon-inventor Montgolfiere; and the entire Quatrain 2--51, which probably refers to Queen Mary's contemporaneous burning of Protestants in England, instead predict the 18th century's Great Fire of London. Randi's lists of Believers' heavily altered anagrams and impossibly convoluted mathematical equations make for particularly high comedy, as does his advice on how you, too, can become a prophet in eight easy steps. Randi's own conjurer, style razzle-dazzle aside, he convinces--in this case at least--that Nostradamus' sleeve, not his own, needs checking.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Scribners