The Mask of Nostradamus
by James Randi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Mask of Nostradamus / 0-87975-830-9
I am a huge fan of James Randi's work in debunking various 'psychic' frauds who prey on innocent victims for fame and fortune, so it was a foregone conclusion that I would read "The Mask of Nostradamus". However, I will admit up front that the work has some slight flaws, in my opinion.
The largest criticism I can level is that if you've read any of Randi's other works, a great deal of this book will seem like repeat material. Randi's treatment of magic vs. science will be very familiar at this point and a repeat reader will likely not find this section useful. However, I do not suppose it is completely fair for me to criticize Randi for laying this important and useful foundation every time he begins another book on a new facet of mythology, so I should temper this criticism as simply a note of caution to the repeat Randi reader.
My other criticism of the book is that I wish the layout had been different. I would have preferred that the detailed examination of prophecy and failure come first, followed by a look at the time period and events which combined to allow the prophet to flourish in spite of his failures. Instead, the book is organized the other way around with the "Life and Times of Nostradamus" material preceding the actual in-depth analysis of the actual prophecies. This approach will tend to discourage all but the most dedicated reader, since the "life and times" of the subject isn't really the most interesting aspect of the story.
Despite the issues of organization and repeat material, this book is still worth the purchase to the regular Randi reader or Nostradamus enthusiast. Randi carefully lays the groundwork of the world that allowed Nostradamus to flourish and provides a great deal of source material from the time period, including a comical exchange between the prophet and one of his clients who begs repeatedly over the course of several letters for the prophet to perhaps try to make his prophetic handwriting legible for he cannot read many of the prophecies at all! Randi also examines many of the prophet's predictions, pointing out the vague lack of details and the failed predictions that had time limits attached to them - limits that have passed without the prophecy's fulfillment. If looking for information on the debunking of the Nostradamus trend, this book will definitely deliver, if you are devoted enough to slog through the introductory chapters.
~ Ana Mardoll
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