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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now I really know everything., 31 July 2010
This review is from: Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World (Hardcover)
When I was a boy, nothing was as fascinating as my dad's bookcase. There were books on history, geography, religion, art and architecture, dictionaries, encyclopaedias and picture books with engravings by Gustav Dore. It was a weird and wonderful world, full of foreign fascination, far from the cosiness of home. For a short while I thought my dad knew everything.
Athanasius Kircher wrote nearly 40 books and really attempted to know everything. This one volume expose concentrates on the illustrations used for those books and provides wonderful specimens of the man's work. After all, who would have the patience to plough their way through the originals written in Latin? Not me!
Kircher writes about and the illustrations show, details of an incredible scope of disciplines. Best known for work on oriental studies, geology and medicine, he was considered the father of Egyptology. 200 Years before the Rosetta Stone made things "easy". Kircher had a crack at deciphering hieroglyphics. A composer himself, he knew all about music. He studied map making and his museum in Rome was full of the most wonderful contemporary machinery as well as gadgets from the past. He was a pioneer volcanologist.
Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World is a treasure trove. If you want to know which animal was kept where in Noah's Ark, Kircher is your man. Want to know all about the Tower of Babel? AK can explain. And although uncle Athanasius suspected unicorns did not exist, he does tell us lots about giants and dragons.
Indeed, descriptions of AK's failings and sometimes ludicrous assumptions are a most diverting aspect of this book. The man believed that water vanished down a whirlpool at the North Pole only to re-emerge at the South Pole. Diagrams show you how that "worked". He was so obsessed by Egyptology that he saw ancient Egypt's influence simply everywhere.
Most interesting is Kircher's position in and towards the Catholic Church. As a Jesuit and a scholar he did of course stumble on areas where the rigid teachings of the church did not provide answers. His books were occasionally financed by non catholic potentates and published in the protestant Northern Netherlands. The censors were quite busy examining his writing. Eventually of course he did toe the line, but he must have done so reluctantly.
Nobody of course knows everything, not my dad, not Athanasius Kircher. But leafing through this beautiful book made me once again feel like that boy standing on a chair looking at a top shelf full of exciting books for grown ups. This is full of wonder : wonderful.
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Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World
Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World by Joscelyn Godwin (Hardcover - 21 Sept. 2009)
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