US physician, psychoanalyst, cosmologist, and writer, of Russian origin. He lectured widely and wrote articles and books – including Ages in Chaos (1952) and Oedipus and Akhnaton: Myth and History (1960) – mostly promoting his equally heretical views on the links between natural phenomena, legends, history, and the human psyche. Although his theories convinced a small circle of true believers – and may contain some kernels of truth here and there – they have generally not held up to scientific scrutiny. Undoubtedly a brilliant polymath, he appears to have contributed more to understanding human psychology than to the advancement of science.
Velikovsky was born in Vitebsk, Russia. As a young man he studied in Moscow, mastering several disciplines and learning several languages; he then studied botany and zoology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland; he took a medical degree in Moscow and did postgraduate medical studies in Berlin. After marrying in 1923, he lived in Paris and then Palestine (1928–38) before settling in New York City in 1939.
Working as a psychoanalyst and independent scholar, he burst upon the scholarly/scientific world in 1950 with his book, Worlds in Collision, which claimed that a fragment of the planet Jupiter – later known as Venus – had careened through space in 1500 BC and brushed against Earth, causing various phenomena that in turn impacted on history (events recorded in the Bible and elsewhere). Attacked by most scientists, he gained at least some sympathy when it was revealed that the scientific establishment had tried to force his publisher to drop the book.