A Man of Misconceptions

A Man of Misconceptions

The Life of An Eccentric in An Age of Change

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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.
ISBN: 9781594488719
Branch Call Number: Biography B Kir


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SkokieStaff_Steven Mar 05, 2018

As a lover of all kinds of curious learning, I tip my hat to Athanasius Kircher, seventeenth century polymath, devotee of esoteric knowledge, and the subject of John Glassie’s biography “A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change.” Kircher would be better remembered today for his prodigious scholarship and voluminous writing if he were not wildly off the mark in just about every natural, historical, geographic, philological, or scientific subject he turned his attention to. A man of misconceptions indeed, he was also a man of exaggerations as his actual accomplishments pale before the accomplishments he claimed for himself and trumpeted before the world. (To name just one real accomplishment, he apparently invented the cat piano, not to be confused with the Keyboard Cat found on YouTube.) Still, he lived in interesting times and had a surprisingly adventurous life for so bookish a man, nearly losing his life in not one but two waterwheel mishaps. Glassie is a pleasure to read as he repeatedly pokes gentle fun at Kircher’s pretensions.

Dec 03, 2016

Books this scrupulously researched can prove mind numbing. I’ve been there; many times, having waded through fifty or so pages, I’ve set down books and found any number of reasons not to pick them up again; not so A Man of Misconceptions. I borrowed the book yesterday and finished it today.

It is both informative and entertaining. As I read, I found myself wondering about a very strange man, Athanasius Kircher. Was he a genius or a charlatan or both? Apparently, he and his writings created the same conundrum for many of his contemporaries: famous scholars of the 17th century. I recommend that you read this Umberto Eco-esque biography and have a go at figuring out the truth for yourself.

4.5 stars for John Glassie!


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