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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Novel-like Account of Multiple Talents of Renaissance Man, October 10, 2012
This review is from: A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change (Hardcover)
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This book is a gripping biography -- it reads like a novel -- of the adventurous life of Athanasius Kircher, a Renaissance man of many talents -- priest, scientist, linguist, musician, geologist and other skills too numerous to list -- and his difficulties in a culture transitioning from pseudo-sciences like alchemy to modern biology, mathematics and physics.

I think the title of the book, "A Man of Misconceptions," does Kircher a bit of an injustice by focusing attention only on his errors, rather than his successes. Kircher's legitimate achievements -- assembling the first worldwide data collection effort (in this case to study longitude), creating huge encyclopedias on scientific and artistic subjects that summarized current knowledge on various topics, writing one of the earliest science fiction novels, correctly explaining how igneous rock is formed -- were astonishing in scope.

Of especial interest are his studies of the Egyptian Coptic language, which provided help -- centuries later -- in deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Unfortunately, due to his early immersion in pre-modern science, some of it unsound, Kirchner never fully moved into the rigorous experimental model of science that his colleagues were adopting, and became an object of derision for his credulity in accepting explanations of various scientific questions from earlier centuries without double-checking them.

Kirchner's reputation also suffered from his bad habit of embroidering on his discoveries beyond what actually happened and in several instances engaging in what would now be called scientific fraud. So the book is also a cautionary lesson on the dangers of guessing, exaggeration and lying in science and other fields.

This book will be of especial interest to Renaissance people with multiple interests and careers, people interested in the history of science, and anyone planning to enter a scientific field.
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4.2 out of 5 stars (37 customer reviews)
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