Two of the first books I ever read on alternative history were Immanuel Velikovsky’s ‘Worlds in Collision’ (1950) and his follow-up Ages in Chaos (1952).
I still recall the thrill of excitement that I felt reading the challenging astronomical ideas his books presented.
In a time when information was strictly disseminated by a tightly-controlled scientific and religious order, Velikovsky’s ideas were a breath of fresh air.
Then, despite the publication of other titles, such as Earth in Upheaval and Peoples of the Sea, interest in Velikovsky—a man whom Carl Sagan described as an ‘exegetic’—faded away.
The onslaught of criticism that emerged after the publication of each of Velikovsky’s books destroyed any interest that there had been in his theories—even within the most hardened of his loyal supporters.
So, who was Velikovsky? What were the ideas that brought him into confrontation with the scientific establishment?
Velikovsky’s Life and Work
Emmanuel Velikovsky (June, 10, 1895 – November, 17, 1979) was a psychiatrist and historical scholar who was born into a Jewish family in Russia.
Between 1924 and 1939, he published about a dozen papers in various medical and psychoanalytic journals. With the onset of World War 2, he moved to New York, where he started to evolve his radical catastrophist cosmology theories. While mainstream academia did not accept them, they were popular and his books sold well.
In his books, Velikovsky proposed a number of alternative theories regarding our solar system and its formation. These included the idea that planet Earth was once a satellite of a ‘proto-Saturn’ body and that Venus was, initially, a comet formed following an explosive offshoot from Jupiter.
He also linked a great deal of social and planetary upheaval on Earth with the influence of Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn.
Velikovsky believed that the Great Flood, as described in ancient texts, actually took place, a result of the effect of energy emissions from an area near Saturn.
Other Biblical events, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, he ascribed to the influence of Jupiter.
He also believed that contact between the Earth and Mars had resulted in havoc during the 8th and 7th centuries BCE.
Largely forgotten for several decades, his name, ideas and theories have once again come under consideration by historian and researcher Laird Scranton in his latest book ‘The Velikovsky Heresies’.
Scranton explains early on in his book that his intention is neither to credit nor discredit Velikovsky’s ideas. It is simply to re-examine them in light of recent astro-physical ideas and their greatly improved methods for assessing planetary data.
These include the space-probes to Venus and Mars and the information that they have subsequently revealed about these planets.
I am a big fan of Laird Scranton and his research into the Dogon Tribe of Africa so I looked forward to reading what he had to say about Velikovsky.
He did not disappoint!
In The Velikovsky Heresies Scranton’s commentary and assessment of Velikovsky, positive and negative, invites you to tread the narrow path between the firm adherents to Velikovsky’s ideas and his most vocal critics.
Laird Scranton presents both points of view in his usual serious, historical style, unencumbered by the academic baggage that invariably accompanies scientific commentary.
Some might argue that this book never needed to be written, that the case against Velikovsky’s controversial ideas is firmly established. Yet, Scranton has done a terrific job demonstrating that Velikovsky’s ideas should still receive some credit.
This, however, is my own personal conclusion and the author in no way attempts to sway your beliefs in any direction.
Nevertheless, Laird Scranton is evidently fascinated by Velikovsky and his knowledge and intuitive insight into the greatly maligned man shines through these pages.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Velikovsky Heresies. It was both an engaging narrative in its own right and a commentary and exposé of how the establishment treats those who present challenging ideas and re-evaluations of established scientific principles.
It is possible that Laird Scranton recognizes a parallel with his own life as a cutting-edge researcher for he shows a deep empathy towards the subject!
The Velikovsky Heresies is an enlightening observation into the mind and beliefs of an important historical figure. It re-opens the door for others to re-examine Tchaikovsky’s works. It has done both the man and his profession a great service.