A spellbinding portrait of Queen Elizabeth’s conjuror – the great philosopher, scientist and magician, Dr John Dee (1527-1608) and a history of Renaissance science.
John Dee was one of the most influential philosophers of the Elizabethan Age. A close confidant of Queen Elizabeth, he helped to introduce mathematics to England, promoted the idea of maths as the basis of science, anticipated the invention of the telescope, charted the New World, and created one of the most magnificent libraries in Europe. At the height of his fame, Dee was poised to become one of the greats of the Renaissance. Yet he died in poverty and obscurity – his crime was to dabble in magic .
Based on Dee’s secret diaries which record in fine detail his experiments with the occult, Woolley’s book is a rich brew of Elizabethan court intrigue, science, intellectual exploration, discovery and misfortune. And it tells the story of one man’s epic but very personal struggle to come to terms with the fundamental dichotomy of the scientific age at the point it arose: the choice between ancient wisdom and modern science as the path to truth.
Dee was not alone in his search for wisdom through the occult. Copernicus discovered that the earth went round the sun because he believed in the sun’s divinity; Tycho Brahe divined from the stars and discovered they were scattered through an immeasurable space; Kepler sought to prove Plato’s belief in the music of the spheres and stumbled on how the solar system worked; and Newton, in his search for the magic stone discovered how it was tied together by gravity.
But Dee went further. Others sought to understand magic whilst Dee seemed to possess its power. He could interpret ancient mystical texts, create potent compounds using alchemy, perform miracles with machines and see the future. His experiments led him to pledge everything in a Faustian pact in return for a chance to explore the spirit world himself.
Woolley’s book unfurls and recreates this brilliant man’s perilous quest for knowledge set against a dynamic age of exploration and scientific discovery. It is electrifying.