In a horoscope he cast in 1647 for Charles I, William Lilly, a noted English astrologer, made the following judgment: "Luna is with Antares, a violent fixed star, which is said to denote violent death, and Mars is approaching Caput Algol, which is said to denote beheading." Two years later the king's head fell on the block. "Astrology must be right," wrote the American astrologer Evangeline Adams, a claimed descendant of President John Quincy Adams, in a challenge to skeptics in 1929. "There can be no appeal from the Infinite."
The Fated Sky explores both the history of astrology and the controversial subject of its influence in history. It is the first serious book to fully engage astrology in this way.
Astrology is the oldest of the occult sciences. It is also the origin of science itself. Astronomy, mathematics, and other disciplines arose in part to make possible the calculations necessary in casting horoscopes. For five thousand years, from the ancient Near East to the modern world, the influence of the stars has been viewed as shaping the course and destiny of human affairs. According to recent polls, at least 30 percent of the American public believes in astrology, though, as Bobrick reveals, modern astrology is also utterly different from the doctrine of the stars that won the respect and allegiance of the greatest thinkers, scientists, and writers -- Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Arab, and Persian -- of an earlier day. Statesmen, popes, and kings once embraced it, and no less a figure than St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian, thought it not incompatible with Christian faith. There are some two hundred astrological allusions in Shakespeare's plays, and not one of their astrological predictions goes unfulfilled. The great astronomers of the scientific revolution -- Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler -- were adherents. Isaac Newton's appetite for mathematics was first whetted by an astrological text. In more recent times, prominent figures such as Churchill, de Gaulle, and Reagan have consulted astrologers and sometimes heeded their advice. Today universities as diverse as Oxford in England and the University of Zaragoza in Spain offer courses in the subject, fulfilling Carl Jung's prediction decades ago that astrology would again become the subject of serious discourse.
Whether astrology actually has the powers that have been ascribed to it is, of course, open to debate. But there is no doubt that it maintains an unshakeable hold on the human mind. In The Fated Sky, Benson Bobrick has written an absolutely captivating and comprehensive account of this engrossing subject and its enduring influence on history and the history of ideas.
In this lively work, historian Bobrick (Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired) takes the reader on a kaleidoscopic journey through the history of the reading of the stars. As he shows, from astrology's birth 6,000 years ago in Babylonia to the Reagan White House, the stars have been studied, interpreted and followed: they drove Christopher Columbus to America, says Bobrick, and their study led to the sciences of astronomy and chemistry. While he gives a nod to the eastern mystics who originated astrology, Bobrick mostly traces the many threads of astrology as they weave through Western thought. Copernicus, Isaac Newton and even Martin Luther studied the astrology texts of their day, using them not only for personal guidance but as a tool in their own remarkable work. Attacked by establishment churches and debunked and scoffed at by contemporary science, astrology has stayed with us and flourishes. Not only are 40 million Americans ravenous consumers of astrology and dedicated followers of horoscopes, but, Bobrick says, astrology is reappearing in academe. With great passion and clarity, Bobrick has written the perfect thinking reader's companion to the daily horoscope. 16 pages of illus. not seen by PW.