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A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change Hardcover – Bargain Price, November 8, 2012

ISBN-10: 1594488711

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, November 8, 2012
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (November 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488711
  • ASIN: B00F6IMDMO
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,600,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Copernicus all lived around the same time as Athanasius Kircher, the subject of this excellent biography. As a thinker and writer, Kircher (ca. 1601–80) was at least as tireless as those guys, so how come we haven’t heard of him? As it turns out, Kircher, who conducted research into such fields as magnetism, optics, acoustics, and hieroglyphics (and plenty more), had what Glassie calls a “major susceptibility to nonsense.” He was, frankly, flat wrong—sometimes hugely, comically wrong—about a lot of things. His translations of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example, turned out to be “wildly inaccurate.” But Kircher is no buffoon. For, among his many stumblings, there were also some genuine contributions to science: a book on optics, to name one, contained one of the earliest descriptions of a microscope. And, even though his translations of the hieroglyphics were off base, he did help to show that the (relatively) modern Coptic languages could be used to decipher the ancient Egyptian language. An entertaining and enlightening biography of a man who has been, probably unfairly, almost entirely left out of the history of science. --David Pitt

Review

“Like his subject, Athanasius Kircher, writer John Glassie has the rare gift of authentic quirkiness. A Man of Misconceptions leaves you contemplating the big questions, delightedly scratching your head, and laughing—all at the same time.”
—Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod and Salt

“I’ve been waiting my entire adult life for someone to write a popular biography of the loopy, ingenious scholar-priest Athanasius Kircher, and John Glassie has delivered marvelously. A man of insatiable curiosity and staggeringly diverse intellectual passions, Kircher may have been the greatest polymath of all time—or at least the most eccentric.”
—Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein

“Glassie brings the ultimate mad professor Athanasius Kircher vividly to life, revealing him to be a kind of cross between Leonardo da Vinci and Mr. Bean. A most entertaining foray into the history of science.”
—Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome

“A marvelous insight into the mind of one of the world’s most eccentric thinkers. Glassie brings Kircher to life—and what a life it is!”
—Adrian Tinniswood, author of The Verneys and Pirates of Barbary

“What a brilliant and revealing book about a fascinating character, one I had no previous knowledge about. Glassie’s genius is to make Kircher and his era come alive for us centuries later in such a way that I can hear and touch him.”
— Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"This fascinating biography of the Renaissance polymath Athanasius Kircher explores the birth of modern science through the life of one of the last pre-modern geniuses."
The New Yorker

“[A] brisk new biography...stirring…with impressive verve and un-Kircherian concision.”
The New York Times

“In his quirky biography of Athanasius Kircher … Mr. Glassie uses Kircher as something of a comic foil to show how erroneous ideas about investigating nature helped lead to modern science... [A] spirited telling."
The Wall Street Journal

“You will come away from Glassie's book ... feeling inspired by the incredible inventive spirit of the man behind such creations as the ‘cat piano’ and ‘the speaking trumpet’ — and at the same time a bit sad that such characters as Kircher have been left mostly forgotten in the winds of time. You'll feel more knowledgeable about everything because of this book.”
The Atlantic Wire

“Hooh boy! ... Why do I love Kircher so much? Chalk it up to the man’s passion for scientific inquiry, and his boundless curiosity about how the world works.”
Scientific American

“Glassie’s biography ... brings into stark relief the pressures of the intellectual climate he lived in ... a time when witch trials flourished, prevailing logic said bees spontaneously generated from dung, and when it was widely believed that something called the vegetable lamb plant of Tartary produced actual sheep as its fruit.”
The Daily Beast

"In the course of his life, Kircher opined, almost invariably incorrectly, about the nature of light, magnetism, and the geography of the earth…Glassie has a genuine affection for Kircher despite the latter's laughably bizarre theories and self-aggrandizing egotism. In fact, the author's affection humanizes Kircher, making him oddly credible."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An entertaining reminder that skepticism can be good.”
Library Journal

“excellent…An entertaining and enlightening biography of a man who has been, probably unfairly, almost entirely left out of the history of science.”
Booklist   

"His sharp eye for the absurd helps Glassie make Kircher's story interesting and superbly human.... Glassie tells Kircher's complex story with humor and genuine passion, using fascinating details to bring us into Kircher's world. "
— Bookslut

"What makes A Man of Misconceptions fascinating is how it sets the intellectual scene of the 17th century ... and it's that clarity of scene that helps make sense of a contradictory character."
Mental Floss Magazine

"Fun and magisterial ... A simply fascinating book about a fascinating figure."
Baltimore City Paper

"Very entertaining."
— NPR's "Science Friday"
 

Customer Reviews

This book was an amazing read!
Claire Buhr
Glassie's book is a marvelous melding of biography, historical and philosophical critique, and human insight.
Trudie Barreras
A well-researched, entertaining read.
B. Cikanek

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The 17th Century was a time of tremendous upheaval. The Church was under attack from Protestant rebels who challenged the authority of Rome and the very nature of God. The old world of scholasticism, in which the world of the Bible and the Ancient Philosophers was absolute was being challenged by the new science of observation. Natural philosophers and mathematicians were creating a new way of seeing the world. It was also a time of superstition, by today's standards, during which men and women were burned alive for the crimes of witchcraft and heresy. It was also a time, perhaps the last time in modern history, during which a single man might aspire to understand all of science, and to contribute to every branch. Scientists like Newton, Leibniz, Descartes, Fermat, Hook, Boyle and Galileo were such men, and to their names we can add another, less well known, who nonetheless contributed significantly to the growing body of knowledge. His name was Athanasius Kircher,

Kircher was by all accounts, possessed of a singularly brilliant mind, as well as a fierce devotion to faith. He made significant contributions to a wide range of intellectual pursuits, perhaps rivaling da Vinci in that regard. Kircher was an early user of van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, and probably the first to propose that diseases like the Plague were carried by by microorganisms. He studied geology, including vulcanology, and theorized about the nature of fossils, contending, contrary to the accepted wisdom of the time, that they were simply the remains of organisms that had lived in earlier times. He taught mathematics, experimented with pyrotechnics, and is credited with the invention of several devices, including magnetic clock and, possibly, the megaphone.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Harry on March 2, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is the best single book available on Athanasius Kircher, one of the most interesting figures in the history of science. Kircher has been the focus of many scholarly books and articles, but Glassie presents something new, a coherent portrait of Kircher as a scholar and thinker in the seventeenth-century world of the Counter Reformation that is intelligible to the lay reader but also does justice to his subject. His style is lively, and the book reads quite well. I would like to think that I know something about Kircher, but I learned much from this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Trudie Barreras VINE VOICE on October 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Glassie's book is a marvelous melding of biography, historical and philosophical critique, and human insight. The dawn of the "Scientific Era", "Age of Enlightenment", or "Renaissance", depending on the terminology one chooses, is of course an unbelievably fertile field for each of these endeavors.

Anyone who has any interest in the way in which logical thought and scientific investigation finally began to break free of mythology and superstition will find this book both amusing and instructive. The subject, Jesuit priest and prolific author Athanasius Kircher, emerges as a person very much in the tradition typified by Leonardo Da Vinci: a man of extremely diverse and wide-ranging interests. Even the things Kircher "got wrong" often opened the way to subsequent developments and break-throughs.

For me, a significant point that was focused by this book is the way the intellectual discipline fostered by the Jesuit training Kircher received was pivotal in broadening and preparing his mind to empower his significant synthesis of spiritual and material reality. I have observed that apparently this sort of preparation has permitted later priest-scientists, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, to bridge the gap between these two perspectives and has continued to encourage a less arrogant and doctrinaire investigation of reality.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The subject of this biography, 17th Century scientist and eccentric Athanasius Kircher, was a younger contemporary of Galileo's, and his later life overlapped Isaac Newton's. Kircher's life had many parallels to the two scientific greats, most aimed at the pursuit of knowledge, yet he never achieved nearly the levels of fame and glory of those men. Why? Because Kircher regularly embraced later-disproven (and often downright goofy by modern standards) explanations for a myriad of phenomena such as snake bites, music, hieroglyphics, magnetism, and celestial motion. In John Glassie's generally engrossing biography of Kircher, he partially redeems the reputation of a man who was both revered and ridiculed in own lifetime, but then somewhat lost to history as his theories mostly got debunked. It turns out that Kircher did break ground in a few areas he is not widely credited for, and he did have some degree of influence on those who came after him. As the story unfolds, Glassie deftly places Kircher's studies and experiments in the context of common beliefs at the time, while simultaneously revealing the quirky and egotistical personality of the man. Kircher lived an interesting life, and this biography kept my attention pretty well from beginning to end. Occasionally it started to feel a little too much like a history textbook, but fortunately those times were much less common than the fascinating and frequently funny "discoveries" and achievements of Athanasius Kircher.
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More About the Author

John Glassie is the author of A Man of Misconceptions, a non-fiction book about a great and strange 17th-century genius/crackpot named Athanasius Kircher. John has written about books, the arts, and ideas, and interviewed many authors, artists, scientists, and other cultural figures for publications such as The Believer, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, Salon, and Wired.

Glassie has been a contributing editor to the New York Times Magazine, where for several years he edited the weekly Lives column. In 2005, John's photographs of bikes on the streets of New York became the basis of a book, Bicycles Locked to Poles, published by McSweeney's, and a show at Jen Bekman Gallery. The project received a great deal of attention in the blogosphere as well as in New York Magazine, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Village Voice, and Photo Magazine (French).

John teaches at the Pratt Institute, and has spoken to students or participated on panels at The New School, The CUNY Graduate Center, and The University of Iowa. He grew up in near Washington, D.C. and attended The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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