A Man of Misconceptions
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.A Scientific American Best Science Book of 2012An Atlantic Wire Best Book of 2012A New York Times Book Review "Editor's Choice”

A Man of Misconceptions Details

TitleA Man of Misconceptions
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 8th, 2012
PublisherRiverhead Books
ISBN-139781594488719
Rating
GenreBiography, History, Science, Nonfiction, Biography Memoir

A Man of Misconceptions Review

  • David
    January 1, 1970
    This book is an easy-to-read, entertaining biography of Athanasius Kircher. Kircher was a 17th-century Jesuit priest who was truly a "Renaissance Man". He studied all different subjects, and wrote a large number of hefty books on a wide range of subjects, including magnetism, music, optics, medicine, geology, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and China. He made several inventions, and was perhaps the first person to use a microscope to study microbes.Kircher had a huge influence on culture and science dur This book is an easy-to-read, entertaining biography of Athanasius Kircher. Kircher was a 17th-century Jesuit priest who was truly a "Renaissance Man". He studied all different subjects, and wrote a large number of hefty books on a wide range of subjects, including magnetism, music, optics, medicine, geology, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and China. He made several inventions, and was perhaps the first person to use a microscope to study microbes.Kircher had a huge influence on culture and science during his lifetime. So, why haven't we heard more about him? Probably because so much of what he wrote was simply wrong. The scientific method had not yet been established, so his idea of a scientific experiment was not too useful. Kircher was obviously brilliant, but he lacked the conceptual tools for attaining the truth--he just used his experiences, and heavily borrowed from others.This biography is straight-forward and non-sentimental. It is most interesting to read about the values, attitudes, and events of the times in language that is not at all "sugar-coated". The levels of violence, religious and political intolerance, and hypocrisy, are described here, often setting the background for Kircher's life.
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  • Sara Van Dyck
    January 1, 1970
    John Glassie’s biography of seventeenth-century thinker Athanasius Kircher takes us to a time when knowledge, religion, and the occult were closely entwined. It’s hard to imagine the breadth of Kircher’s investigations. He translated Egyptian hieroglyphics, viewed blood cells through an early microscope, theorized that medicines worked through magnetic action, established a famous museum, demonstrated that a sunflower seed could act like a clock…and much, more more. Well, some of this was so. Gl John Glassie’s biography of seventeenth-century thinker Athanasius Kircher takes us to a time when knowledge, religion, and the occult were closely entwined. It’s hard to imagine the breadth of Kircher’s investigations. He translated Egyptian hieroglyphics, viewed blood cells through an early microscope, theorized that medicines worked through magnetic action, established a famous museum, demonstrated that a sunflower seed could act like a clock…and much, more more. Well, some of this was so. Glassie illuminates the truly erudite Kircher and the man who freely plagiarized the works of others, faked experiments, and colored observations with mysticism. Still, Kircher was enormously influential and popular in his time. Various of his works - on music, light, China, and even an underground world - were translated and sold throughout Europe . While eventually the new scientists discredited Kircher’s writings, Glassie shows that even his erroneous ideas could contain a grain of truth or stimulate further thinking. With my limited background in the history of science, I found some of these details hard to follow. But it’s fascinating to watch early researchers as they groped their way towards scientific methods, such as replicating experiments or using controls. What would we make of Kircher if he lived in America today? Perhaps he would have been a success, if controversial, attracting both followers and investigative reporters. He was indeed smart, prolific, and curious. He was also adventurous, calculating, ambitious, self-promoting, and skilled at using powerful connections. This is a readable portrait of a supersized character. The author lets us smile at some of Kircher’s most outrageous claims and enlivens history of science with anecdote, reminding us that knowledge moves in mysterious ways.
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  • Ron
    January 1, 1970
    A truly interesting historical character, Kircher is reduced to a cartoon by an author hell-bent on making sure the reader understands Kircher was often wrong. And arrogant. And a con-man. And unequal to the intellects of his time. Etc. Etc...The story of this man practically tells itself, a curious (and yes flawed) man in a time of magnificent change in western culture and history. But here he is portrayed as a glory-seeking Forrest Gump. In the process of focusing on his myriad intellectual an A truly interesting historical character, Kircher is reduced to a cartoon by an author hell-bent on making sure the reader understands Kircher was often wrong. And arrogant. And a con-man. And unequal to the intellects of his time. Etc. Etc...The story of this man practically tells itself, a curious (and yes flawed) man in a time of magnificent change in western culture and history. But here he is portrayed as a glory-seeking Forrest Gump. In the process of focusing on his myriad intellectual and character issues, the author loses the magic of the humanist renewal which drove the incredible changes taking place in Kircher's world.
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  • Vince
    January 1, 1970
    I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.John Glassie has written a fascinating biography of one of histories forgotten early "natural philosophers." Father Athanasius Kircher was a Jesuit priest more interested in investigating the wonders of Nature than in the pursuit of, what at the time (1602-1680) would have been the normal function of one of his Order: the conversion of heathens to the One True Faith. Kircher had a boundless curiosity in all phenomena and investigated just about everything I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.John Glassie has written a fascinating biography of one of histories forgotten early "natural philosophers." Father Athanasius Kircher was a Jesuit priest more interested in investigating the wonders of Nature than in the pursuit of, what at the time (1602-1680) would have been the normal function of one of his Order: the conversion of heathens to the One True Faith. Kircher had a boundless curiosity in all phenomena and investigated just about everything that came within his purview: Egyptian hieroglyphics, magnetism, mathematics, medicine, optics, acoustics, astronomy, alchemy and the list goes on and on. Throughout his lifetime, besides extensive letter writing, he published a prodigious number of illustrated volumes covering his various interests, many running over 1000 pages. Consequently, at a time when educated men were just starting to come out of the superstition dominated late Middle Ages (e.g. witch and heretic burnings were still frequent events at this time), he had an incredibly stimulating effect and was highly regarded in intellectual circles and many ruling courts as well as in Rome. This was at a time before what today would be called the scientific method, had been developed, and Kircher, almost totally lacking in understanding of proper investigatory techniques was, in time, proved to be wrong about almost everything that he theorized. By the time of his death in 1680 he had been reduced to the stature of a clownish prevaricator by those who we would now consider the first generation of real Western scientists. One should not be too hard on the good Father, however, especially when one considers that as great a scientist as Isaac Newton in the years after publication of his revolutionary 'Principia', spent a large percentage of his time continuing his investigations in the science of Alchemy! It is likely that Kirchner influenced Newton in this. And that is only one example of Kircher's posthumous reach.As we follow along the trajectory of Kircher's lifelong path, Glassie also treats us to an excellent snapshot of what life was like generally in this tumultuous time of radical change; religious wars, pestilence, and great social upheaval existing side by side with the great scientific discoveries and development of proto-science, looking forward to Descartes and the Age of Reason.This book is written in an easy and engaging style, nicely paced, illustrated with some of the contemporary engravings used in Kircher's publications and not devoid of humor, as we get to laugh lightly at some of Kircher's foibles and personality quirks. Though possessing little to no scientific expertise myself, I didn't stumble over any of the various topics discussed and I classify the book as a quick even read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this fascinating era of human history. As fgar as I know this is Glassie's first non-fiction prose book (he also has 1 book of photos) and I will be interested in seeing what he comes up with next.
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  • Tlaura
    January 1, 1970
    Glassie uses the story of Athanasius Kircher to tell the story of the seventeenth century, and does it with a lot of verve and (by the standards of the popular history books I've read) sophistication. Kircher was both a prodigious intellectual and a charlatan, by turns a skeptic and an undisciplined speculator, a loyal Jesuit keeping in line following the Galileo Affair and a free thinker. Above all, he was a humanist -- which is to say egoist, and in that fully modern -- careful to leave future Glassie uses the story of Athanasius Kircher to tell the story of the seventeenth century, and does it with a lot of verve and (by the standards of the popular history books I've read) sophistication. Kircher was both a prodigious intellectual and a charlatan, by turns a skeptic and an undisciplined speculator, a loyal Jesuit keeping in line following the Galileo Affair and a free thinker. Above all, he was a humanist -- which is to say egoist, and in that fully modern -- careful to leave future historians with a solid record of his achievements and doings to form the basis of "Kircherian studies". Glassie occasionally strays into unpleasant mockery of his subject, but for the most part does a good job of evaluating him by the standards of his own era, avoiding the temptation to simply cast him into unflattering relief against the period's well-known geniuses (all of whom, after all, made mistakes of their own, as Glassie explains with a refreshing lack of reverence). Kircher's century was one of upheaval, much of it eventually for the better. You see Kircher use his mind and industry to educate himself, escape the Thirty Year German War, and establish a comfortable life for himself in Rome. You see Rome's officials combating and successfully containing the plague for the first time and Kircher himself examining plague victims' blood under a microscope to learn its secrets. (The same instrument will soon, in other hands, smash the ancient concept of spontaneous generation and the anima mundi). You see the way information increasingly flows across Europe, changing ideas and approaches to the natural world. You see how skepticism and mysticism meet and meld in the early modern mind, how logic and mathematics produce insights and how the best speculation (not Kircher's, though he comes close at times) becomes part of the new philosophy. Best of all, Glassie writes with real flair and, while he repeats a few choice Scientific Revolution myths and gets some dates wrong, he generally gives an excellent, fair minded account of a figure we now perceive as just a half-step behind the currents of his era, but whose life and work would have been impossible a century earlier.
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  • Nicholas Gresens
    January 1, 1970
    A fun, readable book about one the most brilliant, eclectic, and perhaps fraudulent men ever to grace the Earth. In an age where people can become famous simply for acting the part of a celebrity on a television show, it is nice to know that even in the intellectual maelstrom of the 17th century such people could arise. This judgement of Athenasius Kircher, however, may be a bit unfair. Although Kircher's main purpose in life seems to have to become famous, this German Jesuit, who dabbled in suc A fun, readable book about one the most brilliant, eclectic, and perhaps fraudulent men ever to grace the Earth. In an age where people can become famous simply for acting the part of a celebrity on a television show, it is nice to know that even in the intellectual maelstrom of the 17th century such people could arise. This judgement of Athenasius Kircher, however, may be a bit unfair. Although Kircher's main purpose in life seems to have to become famous, this German Jesuit, who dabbled in such diverse fields as optics, magnetism, Egyptology, Sinology, and even invented the Katzenklavier (Google it if you don't know what it is), may have actually been brilliant--or at least thought he was. John Glassie does not break new ground on the life of Kircher, but he presents a compelling story of a man who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Descartes, Leibniz, Bernini, Pope Alexander VII, and Queen Christina of Sweden, just to name a few of the famous people that make appearances over the course of this book. Although Kircher may not be counted among the names of people who changed the course of history, in the generous treatment of Glassie Kircher was at least present for many of these moments and may even have inspired some of the great minds who helped to create the modern world in which we live.
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  • Clark Maddux
    January 1, 1970
    A first rate example of how to write a popular book about a little known person. Well worth the read for what it tells about the milieu out of which contemporary science emerged. Someone needs to do this for Samuel Bochart.
  • Orsolya
    January 1, 1970
    The name Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest born in Germany, may not necessarily ring any bells. However, Kircher was an inventor, historian, philosopher, author, and scientist (he coined the term “electromagnetism”) during the 17th century. John Glassie explores this wondrous man in “A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change”.“A Man of Misconceptions” instantly hits the reader with a vibrant, colorful, and energetic portrait of Kircher. The pace is steady and yet ex The name Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest born in Germany, may not necessarily ring any bells. However, Kircher was an inventor, historian, philosopher, author, and scientist (he coined the term “electromagnetism”) during the 17th century. John Glassie explores this wondrous man in “A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change”.“A Man of Misconceptions” instantly hits the reader with a vibrant, colorful, and energetic portrait of Kircher. The pace is steady and yet exciting, while Glassie’s writing style is accessible with lovely language. Flowing almost like a memoir versus a strict biography; the book speaks for itself and comes alive on each page. The reader will forget that this is a historical biography.On the negative end, Glassie tends to go off on tangents and focuses too much on describing the religious, political, and scientific landscapes surrounding both Kircher and Europe in general, versus focusing on the man himself. This results in sections of pages which don’t necessarily progress the book and can be scanned.Another issue is Glassie’s predominate use of Kircher’s autobiography as a source which is terrific in the sense that it is the ultimate Kircher authority but Glassie even admits that Kircher was suspected of bluffing his life story so additional contemporary sources would be welcome for fact-checking. Plus, this makes “A Man of Misconceptions” feel merely like a summary. Despite the use of Kircher’s autobiography, questions remain regarding why Kircher did things or what went through his mind. Although Kircher is quite compelling, “A Man of Misconceptions” still lacks a certain level of insight. Regardless, this overview, in conjunction with Glassie’s writing style, is a wonderful introduction to Kircher (even if lacking in some detail).Although Glassie finds stronger footing with his writing as “A Man of Misconceptions” progresses; it is still too much of an overview with large time gaps in Kircher’s life. Plus, personal facets are never mentioned making “A Man of Misconceptions” merely a career biography versus a look at the ‘man’. This template becomes tedious and causes the writing to lose some steam as Glassie favors the “Kircher did this, Kircher did that, and then this” pattern. “A Man of Misconceptions” begins to feel more like a resume than a biography.Also an issue is a problem with chronology where Glassie backtracks with events and then adds modern comments/quotes which results in confusion. On the other hand, helping some frustration are various illustrations scattered throughout the text. The conclusion of “A Man of Misconceptions” is weak and disjointed from the other aspects of the book. Not only is Kircher’s death barely emphasized, but the final two chapters covers the scientific fields and attempts to prove Glassie’s thesis that Kircher many have influenced great minds (such as Isaac Newton). This doesn’t make sense because elsewhere in the book, Glassie emphasizes that; in general, Kircher was thought to be a joke by many peers. Thus, the book ends on an unstable note. Overall, “A Man of Misconceptions” is best read by those interested in science and the birth of the modern age or for those seeking an overall look at Kircher. Those seeking more depth (social life, family life, etc) or those already familiar with Kircher will be sorely disappointed with this overall look and the absence of a suitable amount of contemporary sources. Despite these flaws, “A Man of Misconceptions” is entertaining, easy to read, and has an essence which can’t be pinpointed (perhaps it is Glassie’s energy/writing style) which results in a delightful read. A great book for readers wanting to discover a lesser-known figure. (Note: I was torn between 3 or 4 stars so this is probably 3.5)
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  • max
    January 1, 1970
    John Glassie is no scientist, but that may make his book more potent to those unaccustomed to looking at the world from a behind the lens of a microscope. His subject, Jesuit scholar and polymath Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), is a titanic of prescientific thinking, a quintessence of the (unintentionally) hilarious limits of any knowledge not based upon independently verifiable data. To paraphrase Glassie, Kircher, by being fantastically wrong on practically every serious problem he attempted t John Glassie is no scientist, but that may make his book more potent to those unaccustomed to looking at the world from a behind the lens of a microscope. His subject, Jesuit scholar and polymath Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), is a titanic of prescientific thinking, a quintessence of the (unintentionally) hilarious limits of any knowledge not based upon independently verifiable data. To paraphrase Glassie, Kircher, by being fantastically wrong on practically every serious problem he attempted to address, went from being the most published, and influential academic of his time to an intellectual circus sideshow in ours. No matter the subject--Egyptology, electromagnetism, infectious diseases, cosmology, or geology, Kircher produced his era’s authoritative opinion using scientific-sounding jargon rigorously strutted with classical and scholastic precedent. To a modern reader, it sounds totally crazy, but to his peers, it was a virtuoso display. This is a very serviceable and enjoyable introduction to Kircher (at least to someone who had hardly heard of him before reading the book). Glassie it as his best retelling the biographical hijinx from Kircher’s life, indicating along the way what he feels are legend and what bears support from other sources. His passages detailing Kircher’s escape from Reformation-torn Germany, a bildungsroman of a young Jesuit, and his cunning political ascent to the summit of Catholic intellectual life are suspensefully rendered, injecting what is essentially an intellectual portrait with a shot of adventure and intrigue to sustain reader interest and fuel the Kircherian mystique.To a large extent Glassie pricks his bubbles of mystery as he goes along, akin to how the the wrecking ball of Newtonian physics tore Kircher down soon after his death. But Glassie also departs brilliantly from biographical convention by continuing to narrate after Kircher passes on. He describes the influence Kircher had on a young Gottfried Leibniz, and speculates convincingly on a powerful spell he may have cast on Isaac Newton, arguing for a connection between Newton's lifelong (and largely fruitless) chemical experiments and Kircher's core metaphysical concerns.After finishing _A Man of Misconceptions_, I wondered for many weeks if there are misconceptions I also harbor. I thought carefully about which of my practices and beliefs I follow based largely on the authority of others, who in turn base their authority on those above or before them. How many of my methods--at work, with my family, in exercise, diet, or leisure--are based on such conventions? Like the spy in a movie who suspects his hotel room is bugged, I began doubting so many things I take for granted, the many things I think are good or fun or relaxing or pleasurable or expedient because I believe them to be, not because I can demonstrate that they are. John Glassie may not have deliberately written a work of such destabilizing profundity, but given the impact of this short book on my thinking, I can’t help but to compare its effect to some sort of alchemical cure. It didn’t taste like so much going down, but I can’t quite manage to see the world in the same way since.
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  • Graychin
    January 1, 1970
    Athanasius Kircher was a seventeenth-century Jesuit polymath and author of incredible ambition, productivity, and influence. He had detractors in his own day but he’s presently remembered – if remembered at all – for being remarkably wrong about a great many things. He was wrong, for example, about being able to read hieroglyphics, the spontaneous generation of worms and rats, the antiquity and historicity of Hermes Trismegistus, the earth being hollow and filled with rivers of fire, and the hel Athanasius Kircher was a seventeenth-century Jesuit polymath and author of incredible ambition, productivity, and influence. He had detractors in his own day but he’s presently remembered – if remembered at all – for being remarkably wrong about a great many things. He was wrong, for example, about being able to read hieroglyphics, the spontaneous generation of worms and rats, the antiquity and historicity of Hermes Trismegistus, the earth being hollow and filled with rivers of fire, and the heliotropic properties of sunflower seeds. He seems to have established his fame on the possession and supposed translation of a manuscript which never existed. Later in life, he wrote a brazenly self-laudatory autobiography and a precursor to “Kircherian studies” which he published under a student’s name. John Glassie would have us recall that many of Kircher's contemporaries – even those whose reputations have endured to the present era – were sometimes wrong in similar (if not quite so numerous) ways. The great Newton himself, who spent thirty years of his life devoted to alchemy, was wrong about the philosopher’s stone. He was hardly alone. Newton and Leibniz, and many others, owe something to Kircher, Glassie argues. And if his errors are amusing, Kircher is not himself unsympathetic. His prodigious curiosity and creativity should suggest that there’s more, perhaps, to the man than mere object lesson in comical misapprehension and poor reasoning. And certainly, he wasn't wrong about everything.Glassie does a wonderful job with this book. It’s charming, comical, educational, informed; in short, all you could hope for in a popular biography of Kircher. Thank you, Mr Glassie. I hope you have another book in the works.
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  • Jeff
    January 1, 1970
    The 17th century may have been the beginning of the Modern era, but that transition was not without considerable struggle. Galileo figured out how the Earth rotated around the sun, and was convicted of heresy and placed under house arrest. "Science" as we understand it was as much speculation as research. Witch burnings were the order of the day. into this conflicted time comes Father Athanasius Kircher of the Company of Jesus, and he soon becomes one of the most published authors of his day. Th The 17th century may have been the beginning of the Modern era, but that transition was not without considerable struggle. Galileo figured out how the Earth rotated around the sun, and was convicted of heresy and placed under house arrest. "Science" as we understand it was as much speculation as research. Witch burnings were the order of the day. into this conflicted time comes Father Athanasius Kircher of the Company of Jesus, and he soon becomes one of the most published authors of his day. The fact that he had a rather tenuous relationship with the truth didn't slow him down: his motto seemed to be "if that's not the way it was, that's the way it should have been." He started one of the first museums in Rome (a "cabinet of wonders" that was known throughout Europe) and his writings on magnetism and music and China (a place he never saw) were very influential. OK, so he got everything wrong - that didn't prevent him from being widely read and discussed and in many cases influential. And is Kircher really so fart removed from Right-wing bloggers of today? Glassie has done a fine job outlining Kircher's life and work in a style that is readable and remarkably free of snark.
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  • Chris Feldman
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting and readable examination of a fascinatingly flawed man, Athanasius Kircher. This is an easy read, though I found Glassie's overuse of quotes, especially from 20th/21st century biographers, to be annoyingly distracting. This isn't a newspaper article: don't rehash what they said, tell me what you have to say about him. The other tic that bothered me was a constant focus on what Kircher got wrong. Yes, there was much about which he was wrong (or even full of crap), but Glassie tends An interesting and readable examination of a fascinatingly flawed man, Athanasius Kircher. This is an easy read, though I found Glassie's overuse of quotes, especially from 20th/21st century biographers, to be annoyingly distracting. This isn't a newspaper article: don't rehash what they said, tell me what you have to say about him. The other tic that bothered me was a constant focus on what Kircher got wrong. Yes, there was much about which he was wrong (or even full of crap), but Glassie tends to hit us over the head with Kircher's mistakes to the point of downplaying his occasional hits (however accidental some of them were). On the whole, though, I enjoyed this book and would have given it 3.5 stars if I could. In addition, the section tying Kircher's work to that of Newton is a nicely done bonus, as is the linking of Kircher to the Occult Revival of late nineteenth century groups like the Golden Dawn (which I would have loved to see more about).
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  • Elise
    January 1, 1970
    A Man of Misconceptions took me to the cozy interconnected world of 17th century of intellectual Europe. But can there even be said to be such a thing as an "intellectual" Europe, when even luminaries such as Rene Descartes pondered the question of whether a sunflower seed could power a clock because of its tendency to turn toward the sun? Athanasius Kircher was one of history's greatest social climbers. He also possessed boundless curiosity, enormous intelligence, exceptional self-regard and as A Man of Misconceptions took me to the cozy interconnected world of 17th century of intellectual Europe. But can there even be said to be such a thing as an "intellectual" Europe, when even luminaries such as Rene Descartes pondered the question of whether a sunflower seed could power a clock because of its tendency to turn toward the sun? Athanasius Kircher was one of history's greatest social climbers. He also possessed boundless curiosity, enormous intelligence, exceptional self-regard and astounding chutzpah, all of which make for a fascinating life's journey. The author deftly balances the demands of historical biography and the opportunity to tell a very good yarn.
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  • Erin
    January 1, 1970
    The book provided wonderful insight into the early modern scientific era, when thinkers were moving from Aristotelian-based approaches to science to more empirical methods. While Kircher perhaps represents a strange and winding back road off the great highway of knowledge, Glassie's biography wonderfully explained the intellectual world in which Kircher worked. And while many of Kircher's ideas were zany (e.g., the cat organ and that infamous sunflower seed), his books inspired a generation of g The book provided wonderful insight into the early modern scientific era, when thinkers were moving from Aristotelian-based approaches to science to more empirical methods. While Kircher perhaps represents a strange and winding back road off the great highway of knowledge, Glassie's biography wonderfully explained the intellectual world in which Kircher worked. And while many of Kircher's ideas were zany (e.g., the cat organ and that infamous sunflower seed), his books inspired a generation of great thinkers, even if that inspiration was merely to debunk.
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  • Dan Creighton
    January 1, 1970
    One man's laudable quest to know everything, and how, by our lights he got almost everything comically wrong. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is how it portrays a world that seems modern - plagiarists, fame-seeking empty vessels, biting satire, even a form of social media - and totally alien. Although perhaps the seemingly alien sports of Jew and prostitute racing find an analog on the scummier shores of reality tv.
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  • Aloysius
    January 1, 1970
    Crazy or brilliant? Kook or erudite? From what I've read from this book, the answer to the identity of Athanasius Kircher is "yes". From Germany to France and from Italy to Egypt, this man that I'd never heard of was at the forefront of the 17th century revolution in the acquisition of knowledge about the natural world.
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  • Paracelsus
    January 1, 1970
    One of the best books I have ever read. It is very easy to read and still gives a detailed description of how "science" was conducted during Kircher's era. The author did a great job telling Kircher's story. A must read.
  • Maxwashl
    January 1, 1970
    Kircher was very interesting even though he was a bit of a nutter. I'm still trying to get through his book on volcanoes and now I want to look up some of his other books that I didn't know existed until I read this. A great bio. that is probably unbiased compared to his autobio.
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  • Rouna & Bouna
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent summary of Kircher and his impact (however small or abstract) on modern thinking. He can be hailed as the last pre-modern scientific mind in which his outrageous theories and claims ushered in a new era of experiment-based evaluations.
  • Stephanie Davis
    January 1, 1970
    Really interesting!
  • Joyce Delp
    January 1, 1970
    Athanasius Kircher was a 17th Century Jesuit priest. Judging by his biography by John Glassie, Father Kircher had little time for priestly duties. He had a wide range of interests including astronomy, magnetics, earth science, mathematics, hieroglyphics and medicine and wrote many books on those subjects. The books, each containing hundreds of pages, were fraught with misconceptions,ill-conceived ideas and a smattering of plagiarism. However, being often wrong but never in doubt, Kircher defende Athanasius Kircher was a 17th Century Jesuit priest. Judging by his biography by John Glassie, Father Kircher had little time for priestly duties. He had a wide range of interests including astronomy, magnetics, earth science, mathematics, hieroglyphics and medicine and wrote many books on those subjects. The books, each containing hundreds of pages, were fraught with misconceptions,ill-conceived ideas and a smattering of plagiarism. However, being often wrong but never in doubt, Kircher defended his errors vigorously and Mr. Glassie presents these glaring flaws with a dry, laugh out loud humor.If you are hazy about other 17th century scientists, Mr. Glassie brings you up to speed on them and also furnishes interesting facts such as the the Hapsburgs having grotesque chins and Queen Christina of Sweden being of uncertain gender.I read the book twice and enjoyed it both times!Joyce P. DelpWillingboro, NJ
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  • Unwisely
    January 1, 1970
    This book was one of those random pickups while wandering through the big central library. I'd never heard of Athanasius - wait, why does spellcheck know that name? - Kirchener before this, but the library had a bunch of copies and it looked interesting.This was not the most fascinating non-fiction book I've read. The guy was a strange one, and wrong about a lot of things, but well known in his time and corresponded with a lot of famous people of his age. An interesting read so close to Jonathan This book was one of those random pickups while wandering through the big central library. I'd never heard of Athanasius - wait, why does spellcheck know that name? - Kirchener before this, but the library had a bunch of copies and it looked interesting.This was not the most fascinating non-fiction book I've read. The guy was a strange one, and wrong about a lot of things, but well known in his time and corresponded with a lot of famous people of his age. An interesting read so close to Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World ; this had more of how science was kind of strange than church politics and the other stuff. But gave me some texture and nuance for that time.
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  • Peter Melancon
    January 1, 1970
    This book was interesting, I picked it up on a whim at the library because Athanasius was a man that followed his heart on everything that is upon the earth. He is an eccentric character writing books and giving scientist of the ages on where to start for hypothesis and theories. (Although in his writing none of his experiments seem to work.) A good read for the curious minded.
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  • Matthew Calamatta
    January 1, 1970
    Come for the silliness, stay for the humanityAfter a catalogue of errors, self delusions and perhaps deceptions, we learn about Kircher's rightful place in the pantheon of science and the mountains of bunk. Not just a charlatan, and a reminder that we moderns cannot be comfortable with our truths.
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  • Robert
    January 1, 1970
    Good story of the life of an eccentric polymath and proto-scientist. If he did not experiment himself he did, through his voluminous writings, cause experiments to be done.
  • Clayton
    January 1, 1970
    Fun but slight look into the Don Quixote of academics.
  • Ricardo
    January 1, 1970
    Detailed account of the life of one true renaissance man, but in a very condescending view. None of the amazing plates of Kircher's books are included and Glassie's assessment of Kircher's achievements are distracting, Glassie tries to hard to make Kircher appear as a crazy hoarder if we consider later developments in science and understanding of the universe, a big IF indeed considering when Kircher lived.
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  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    A quick and entertaining biography of a Jesuit priest and scholar who was raised and trained just before the 'scientific revolution.' His many texts and 'experiments' covering nearly every scientific field that now exists were always on the verge of insightful while remaining ridiculous and ridiculed and thoroughly adored by laymen and scientists alike throughout seventeeth century Europe. The topic itself isn't riveting--I'd never head of Kircher before this book although apparently his influen A quick and entertaining biography of a Jesuit priest and scholar who was raised and trained just before the 'scientific revolution.' His many texts and 'experiments' covering nearly every scientific field that now exists were always on the verge of insightful while remaining ridiculous and ridiculed and thoroughly adored by laymen and scientists alike throughout seventeeth century Europe. The topic itself isn't riveting--I'd never head of Kircher before this book although apparently his influence permeates Western thought, culture, and longstanding misinterpretations of other societies and past civilizations. But the author found a way to use Kircher as a springboard for explaining 17th century Europe and that's what makes this a rich and relevant text. I do admit, though, that the further I got into this book and the more Kircher grew obsessed with magnets and miracles, that I started to think that the Insane Clown Posse needed a copy of this book stat. Fucking magnets, how do they work? Panspermia rerum apparently.
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  • Jrobertus
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fascinating and enjoyable read. It describes the life, times, and efforts of avJesuit priest named Athanasius Kircher. He lived through the early to middle 17th century, through the many religious wars, including the Thirty Years War that destroyed his German heartland. Kircher mastered many languages and made his career around interpreting hieroglyphs on Egyptian obelisks. He never had a clue what they said, but made up stuff he thought was a greater truth than the facts. He was fasci This is a fascinating and enjoyable read. It describes the life, times, and efforts of avJesuit priest named Athanasius Kircher. He lived through the early to middle 17th century, through the many religious wars, including the Thirty Years War that destroyed his German heartland. Kircher mastered many languages and made his career around interpreting hieroglyphs on Egyptian obelisks. He never had a clue what they said, but made up stuff he thought was a greater truth than the facts. He was fascinated by magnetism and wrote over 40 books on a range of topics and was read by many of the thinkers who created the scientific revolution. The author does a great tongue in cheek analysis of his contributions, which include so many ridiculous errors it seems laughable. However, near the end he points out that Newton who was born in Kircher's old age, spent most of his time on alchemy and such. I think this scholary, yet light hearted book is a great way to get a feel for a tumultuous and exciting period of history through the sufferings, BS, and legitimate efforts of an most unusual man.
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  • J.R.
    January 1, 1970
    This book was a slow-go for me. Let me say at the start, though, that was not the fault of John Glassie. His writing is smooth and he does a competent job of fleshing out Kircher’s life and career.My problem was the subject. I wasn’t far into the book before I decided Kircher was a mix of charlatan and buffoon, as it appears many of his contemporaries saw him—Peiresc, Descartes and Redi among them. And yet he obviously had a remarkable mind and was capable of grasping finite principles which sci This book was a slow-go for me. Let me say at the start, though, that was not the fault of John Glassie. His writing is smooth and he does a competent job of fleshing out Kircher’s life and career.My problem was the subject. I wasn’t far into the book before I decided Kircher was a mix of charlatan and buffoon, as it appears many of his contemporaries saw him—Peiresc, Descartes and Redi among them. And yet he obviously had a remarkable mind and was capable of grasping finite principles which science has proven to be true.And despite a willingness to stretch the truth to fit his theories and examples of outright quackery his influence down the centuries can be seen in such other charlatans as Madame Blavatsky as well as achievements like the breakthrough in translating Egyptian hieroglyphics and the development of binary arithmetic.Glassie also surprised me by showing Kircher’s imprint in the work of artists like Marcel Duchamp and Giorgio de Chirico and the writers Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and Umberto Eco.Maybe he does deserve to have that crater on the moon named in his honor.
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