From Publishers Weekly
If one really wants to understand the contradictions and "intellectual ferment" of the 16th century, says Ball, one should look not at Luther or Copernicus, but at the much-maligned Paracelsus. Born in Switzerland in 1493, Philip Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus, is a figure often more imagined than known. Famous as a doctor of alchemic medicine, he has been compared with Faust and developed a reputation as a miracle worker and charlatan that only grew after his death in 1543. Ball, author of the prize-winning Critical Mass
, mixes scant biographical detail with a wide-ranging evocation of the Renaissance worldview to create a fascinating portrait of the man, his age and his historical reputation. Forays into ancient, medieval and Islamic medicine, academic rivalries, the proliferation of publications, and treatments of syphilis all help to recreate the mindset in which doctor and patient lived. Concepts of magic as simply the hidden qualities of nature, and the blurring of poison and medicine demonstrate how what we call science and magic overlapped. Ball produces a vibrant, original portrait of a man of contradictions: "[a] humble braggart, a puerile sage, an invincible loser, a courageous coward, a pious heretic, an honest charlatan...." 50 b&w illus. (Apr.)
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To his successful popular-science titles, Ball adds this biography of an outlandish Renaissance figure. Paracelsus (1493-1541) trained in medicine but ridiculed the profession's medieval scholasticism. Incorrigibly impolitic, he sought to reform medicine with all manner of alchemical means and metatheories that seem strange by modern lights, impudent by those of a civilization in transition from magical to rational thought, and heroic to future Romantic poets. Here is the picture of one man against the world, and Ball makes the most of his sprawling, spendthrift, undisciplined life. A lifelong itinerant, Paracelsus ranged the expanse of Europe, offending, befriending, and moving on. Ball handles the travelogue as a book in itself, parallel to his summaries of Paracelsus' writings on health, alchemy, astrology, and himself. An enlivening portrait that will spark interest in Paracelsus' role in the rise of science. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved