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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mad and wonderful, 18 Dec 2012
This review is from: A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change (Hardcover)
If you want to know how volcanoes work, the obvious solution is to get yourself lowered into a semi-active crater... Kircher was a Jesuit priest who managed to be wrong about almost everything (arguing for wonderful concepts such as 'Universal Sperm' and the interaction of tides and magma in a model inspired by theories of the circulation of the blood), and also something of a fraud - while also contriving to be genuinely brilliant and oddly admirable. He seems to have spent most of his early life escaping from the various massacres of the 30 Years War, but in the occasional intervals between scrambling over frozen rivers, he became proficient in dozens of tongues and literatures, wrote a mad-but-brilliant introduction to musical theory, invented a device allowing translation between five major languages, observed the blood of plague victims under a microscope of his own construction, and helped, if only accidentally, to formalise our knowledge of alchemical and occult thought. He also found time to invent what would later be known as science fiction, although devising a cat piano may not have been his most brilliant idea.
This is a highly entertaining account of Kircher's life and thought; it would be easy to lapse into mere mockery, but the author avoids the temptation, especially in a rather beautifully written final chapter. This is well-informed, informative and lucid. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of science and scientific thought - but then, as Kircher seems to have had an influence on 'Paradise Lost' (and Jules Verne, and Blavatsky, and Yeats), I'd recommend it to students of literature, too. Enjoy!
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A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change
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