A Scientific American Best Science Book of 2012
An Atlantic Wire Best Book of 2012
A New York Times Book Review "Editor's Choice"
The "fascinating" (The New Yorker) story of Athanasius Kircher, the eccentric scholar-inventor who was either a great genius or a crackpot . . . or a bit of both.
The interests of Athanasius Kircher, the legendary seventeenth-century priest-scientist, knew no bounds. From optics to music to magnetism to medicine, he offered up inventions and theories for everything, and they made him famous across Europe. His celebrated museum in Rome featured magic lanterns, speaking statues, the tail of a mermaid, and a brick from the Tower of Babel. Holy Roman Emperors were his patrons, popes were his friends, and in his spare time he collaborated with the Baroque master Bernini.
But Kircher lived during an era of radical transformation, in which the old approach to knowledge-what he called the "art of knowing"- was giving way to the scientific method and modern thought. A Man of Misconceptions traces the rise, success, and eventual fall of this fascinating character as he attempted to come to terms with a changing world.
With humor and insight, John Glassie returns Kircher to his rightful place as one of history's most unforgettable figures.
Journalist Glassie (Bicycles Locked to Poles) tackles the life of the eccentric 17th-century Jesuit priest and polymath Athanasius Kircher who, Glassie says, "never ruined a good story with facts." In the course of his life, Kircher opined, almost invariably incorrectly, about the nature of light, magnetism, and the geography of the earth, which he said was characterized by underground fires and great waters (a notion that may have inspired Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth). Glassie has a genuine affection for Kircher despite the latter's laughably bizarre theories and self-aggrandizing egotism. In fact, the author's affection humanizes Kircher, making him oddly credible: "Kircher wanted the world to be magical, and yet to make sense," he writes. Historical background and anecdotes involving Newton, Liebniz, Queen Christina of Sweden, and other 17th-century figures helps round out the narrative. Glassie's fascination with the misguided polymath Kircher translates to an entertaining sidebar to the linear march-of-science narratives that ordinarily depicts the scientific revolution. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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November 07, 2012
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