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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nostradamus Books Are New Bestsellers

NEW YORK -- Within hours of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks, people desperate for information and explanations rushed to purchase treatises on terrorism and the Arab world and biographies of the World Trade Center.

And -- as often happens in the aftermath of dark and jarring public occurrences -- many of them loaded up on works that some believe predicted the tragic event.

In this case, they have turned in surprising numbers to the writings of Nostradamus, a 16th-century French soothsayer credited by some acolytes with predicting apocalyptic events including the rise of Nazi Germany, the Challenger space shuttle explosion and the AIDS epidemic.

Among the top 25 best-selling titles at online bookseller for much of last week and again Monday were three editions of Nostradamus' prophecies, four books about the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and two histories each of the World Trade Center and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

"Our Islam section has really emptied out," said Virginia Harabin, a supervisor at Politics & Prose, a bookstore in Washington. Among the books selling well, she said, were two by Karen Armstrong -- a history of Islam and a biography of Mohammed -- and the works of Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said.

At the Strand, a second-hand bookstore in Manhattan, customers sought copies of Eric Darton's "Divided We Stand: A Biography of New York City's World Trade Center," said Eddie Sutton, a manager. Of the 44 copies the store had last Tuesday, 27 had been sold.

At the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Court Street in Brooklyn, clerks were keeping an informal tally of requests for Nostradamus' prophecies. "Today, 20 people have asked for Nostradamus," said Wayne Cumberbatch, a store manager. "And we've been sold out since Wednesday."

A French astrologer and physician of Jewish descent, Michel de Notredame, or Nostradamus (1503-66), became famous for his innovative medical response to an outbreak of the plague in 1546. During the mid-1500s he became known as the author of "Centuries," a book of rhyming quatrains that purported to foretell the future. Published during a period in which astrology was in vogue, Nostradamus was received by members of the French royal court including Catherine de Medicis. Vague and muddled, Nostradamus' rhymes are considered to be gibberish by most scholars. But their ambiguity has made them fodder for disaster portents.

While booksellers and publishing industry executives said that the demand for books providing background information on the attacks was consistent with the response to previous national and international incidents -- including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the Gulf War -- some said the interest in the doomsday prophecies of Nostradamus was unprecedented.

"We're sensing that this time is different," said Ann Smith, chief of operations at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. "There's an increased demand from people who aren't familiar with Nostradamus and suddenly want to read him."

The spike in the writer's popularity appeared to have been fueled by the Internet, where web sites and e-mail messages promoted the idea that he had foreseen Tuesday's tragic events. One e-mail message that was widely circulated last week combines sentence fragments from different passages in Nostradamus' writings with words that were not his, to create a provocative text whose implication was impossible to mistake: "In the year of the new century and nine months/ From the sky will come a great King of Terror," the e-mail message read. "The sky will burn at forty-five degrees. Fire approaches the great new city/ In the city of York, there will be a great collapse/ 2 twin brothers torn apart by chaos/ while the fortress falls the great leader will succumb/ third big war will begin when the big city is burning."

Compounding the impact of the e-mail prophecy was the cover of "The Nostradamus Prophecy," a 1999 techno-thriller by John S. Powell inspired by Nostradamus, which featured the World Trade Center towers tumbling. The publisher, Dorchester Press, said it had decided not to fill reprint orders for the book because it considered the cover in bad taste.

Caught off guard by the sudden demand for their titles last week, several small university presses with books on's bestseller list scrambled to order reprints on an unprecedented scale. By 9 a.m. last Wednesday morning, Rutgers University Press had sold its last thousand copies of "Twin Towers: The Life of New York City's World Trade Center," a 1999 cultural history by Angus Kress Gillespie, a professor of American Studies at Rutgers University, and was making plans to print 20,000 more. At Northeastern University Press, the 500 remaining copies of "The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism," an account by London journalist Simon Reeve of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, were also depleted by Wednesday morning. A rush reprinting of 15,000 copies is under way.