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A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an…

A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change (edition 2012)

by John Glassie (Author)

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883137,094 (3.6)9
Title:A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change
Authors:John Glassie (Author)
Info:Riverhead Books (2012), 353 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Non Fiction, History

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A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change by John Glassie



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Athanasius Kircher is an interesting subject, but the amount of conjecture and the repetitive narrative used by Glassie bogs down the reader. On the other hand, the societal and cultural picture of the 17th century Glassie provided was quite interesting. And, just when you are sure that any and all thinking attributed to Kircher must be a hoax, Kircher came up with something like "universal music," which may have influenced J. S. Bach.

The book is filled with the tabloid fodder of the day: Queen Christina, who abdicated her throne (and worse, became a Protestant), was rumored to be an hermaphrodite, or a lesbian, and to have killed René Descartes!

Not all the tidbits are farcical. After the Great Fire in London in 1666, Christopher Wren--the architect--rebuilt 51 of the 84 churches thus destroyed, including St. Paul's Cathedral.

The author, a writer for several magazines and of a photo book, took on an ambitious project for his first book-length project. Tighter editing could have been a help. ( )
  kaulsu | Mar 26, 2015 |
A biography of Athanasius Kircher, the 17th century polymath and prolific author who amongst many other things tried to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs and invent a universal language.

Drily humorous account of Kircher's life. Unfortunately so much of the book is spent on describing the intellectual milieus Kircher was working in, other people's reaction to him, and his indirect legacy that Kircher himself and his thought remain rather elusive.

Even more unfortunately, although the endnotes in the ebook link back to the text, the text does not link to the endnotes. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Sep 9, 2014 |
John Glassie has written an absorbing and enjoyable biography of one of history's great characters, the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher. The author of more than thirty books on a wide range of topics (from music to hieroglyphics to snakebite to China to the nature of the interior of the earth), Kircher also collaborated with Bernini, rubbed shoulders with popes and emperors, and curated a famous museum in Rome. Many of his conclusions turned out to be entirely incorrect, and seem completely ridiculous to us now, but that notwithstanding, his life and career make for a good read, and Glassie does the job very well indeed.

With my usual gripe that the notes ought to be indicated in the text, the references are at least very thorough and provide plenty of extra fodder for the curious reader who finishes Glassie's book and wants to dig deeper. ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 2, 2012 |
Showing 3 of 3
How did a man who got so many things wrong [sc. Kircher] become an intellectual celebrity in his own lifetime? His world and works are the subject of John Glassie’s lively and accessible A Man of Misconceptions, the first biography of Kircher to appear in English since Father Conor Reilly’s study from 1974. Relying heavily on the research of several generations of scholars, starting with the learned John Fletcher, Glassie does not offer new facts about Kircher’s life. What he does instead is retell the tale of Kircher for an audience who may be familiar with the era only through the ideas of its intellectual giants: Galileo, Descartes, Newton and Leibniz. Glassie’s Kircher is an eccentric and itinerant scholar of multiple and only partially realized talents.
added by AndreasJ | editThe Nation, Paula Findlen (Apr 3, 2013)
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Kircher lived during an era of radical transformation, in which the old approach to knowledge was giving way to the scientific method and modern thought. A man of misconceptions traces his rise, his success, and his eventual fall as he attempted to come to terms with a changing world.… (more)

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