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Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World: The Life and Work of the Last Man to Search for Universal Knowledge Hardcover – September 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


“. . . an encyclopedic feast of extraordinary images, all fascinating, and many exotic . . .” (John Carey, Temenos Academy, March 2011)

"Almost any modern work on archaeology, geology, science, medicine, or even Egyptian or Chinese history will present some intriguing fact . . . with a footnote referencing a work by Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680). The work of the polymath Jesuit richly rewards pursuit, and Joscelyn Godwin, a distinguished translator and professor of music at Colgate University, is the ideal guide. Not least of Godwin's services is placing Kircher in his intellecltual context. . . . What makes Kircher endlessly fascinating, as Godwin amply demonstrates, is the sheer breadth, depth, and expansiveness of his ever-curious mind. . . . Godwin and Inner Traditions deserve congratulations for a superb book, complete with bibliographies of Kircher's works and works about him." (Peter Skinner, ForeWord Reviews, Nov/Dec 2009)

"There was a slightly surreal side to 17th century science, too . . . His [Athanasius's] mind resembled a chamber of curiosities: full of strange and astonishing objects." (Bloomberg.com, Dec 2009)

"Here we have a virtual window into the mind of a 17th century genius. Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World fully and masterfully examines every area of Kircher's wide field of study and accomplishment. The large volume is magnificently illustrated with the stunning engravings from Kircher's work." (SirReadaLot.org, Nov 2009)

"The great show in this beautifully produced book is the illustrations themselves, and the huge range of ideas they occupy. . . . Kircher might not have been hugely influential, might not have been the 'Renaissance Man' that, say, Leonardo was, but just looking at these pictures shows he ought to be more widely known. The beauty of many of the pictures is obvious, but with so many of them, covering such a broad array of inquiry, the effect of Godwin's book is to excite admiration for an extraordinary mind." (Rob Hardy, Top 50 Reviewer on amazon.com, Mar 2010)

"Despite the constraints of his religious order, Kircher and his publishers engaged engravers, printers, and patrons to finance and produce a series of learned volumes on his subjects. He was at the heart of a global system of knowledge transfer, and was usually first to hear of geographical or scientific discoveries, as missionaries sent reports to him from all over the world. . . . The illustrations remain breathtaking . . ." (James Hamilton, The Spectactor, Nov 2009)

"The reproductions are good, and Godwin deserves considerable praise for his close observation and background research" (Peter Carl, Times Higher Education Supplement, UK, Jan 2010)

"Godwin's magisterial tome explains Kircher's many achievements (among them a prototype of the magic lantern, the ancestor of the slide-projector), and contains many of his astonishing illustrations, accompanied with detailed captions. He has been well served by his publisher, which has presented exemplary texts with masses of Kircher's fabulous images as a beautiful, absorbing and utterly wonderful book." (James Stevens Curl, Times Higher Education, Jan 2010)

" . . . the main thing to say about this book is that it is a stupendously good piece of design. Every illustration is reproduced in exactly the right place; the captions are superbly apt and very clearly signaled; the sidebars are tactfully positioned and filled with exactly the right amount of information. The paper is heavy and rich, and properly bound. The author and the publisher have taken real, prolonged, and exhaustive pains to make a beautiful book, and succeeded." (The Guardian, Feb 2010)

"Kircher obviously had his books of ideas copiously illustrated with expensive copper engravings . . . the engravings were largely ignored. But now they are shown to advantage in Joscelyn Godwin's new book, a wonderful theatrical feast of architecture, mythological figures, curiosities such as moon dials and sunflower clocks along with machines which embrace both the past and the future. This is not to mention images of fabulous cities and the deities which were believed to have inhabited them, plus a sensational engraving of the Tower of Babel." (Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post, Oct 09)

"Kircher's lasting legacy has been his prodigious outpouring of scientific tomes, copiously--at times fantastically so--illustrated by a variety of highly skilled artists to help articulate his often startling and marvelous postulations. . . . a charming, hugely knowledgeable and delightfully droll guide to this fascinating seventeenth-century personage who embodied the intersection of science, art, and the imagination. In the end, it is his unrelenting spirit of inquiry that stands out as the thing that we, as present-day readers, can learn from. Making the most of his situation, station, and formidable intellect, Athanasius Kircher embarked on a life-long, all encompassing scientific enterprise on a scale that is nothing short of staggering." (David Mathews, The Vienna Review, Mar 2010)

" . . . a valuable addition to the history and philosophy of science shelves, offering valuable insight into the life of one of the world's last true polymaths." (C.G. Wood, Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, September 2010)

From the Inside Flap


Linguist, archaeologist, and exceptional scholar, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was the last true Renaissance man.  By profession a Jesuit priest, he made himself an authority on almost every subject under the sun.  To Kircher the entire world was a glorious manifestation of God, and his exploration was both a scientific quest and a religious experience.  His works on Egyptology (he is credited with being the first Egyptologist), music, optics, magnetism, geology, and comparative religion were the definitive tests of their time--and yet they represent only a part of his vast range of knowledge.  A Christian Hermeticist in the mold of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, his work also examined alchemy, the Kabbalah, and the Egyptian Mystery tradition exemplified by Hermes Trismegistus.  Kircher was the first to map ocean currents; the first to offer a comprehensive theory of vulcanism; the first to compile an encyclopedia on China, a dictionary of Coptic, a book dedicated solely to acoustics; the first to construct a machine for coding messages and another for composing music.  His museum in Rome was among the most famous "cabinets of curiosities," visited by everybody in the intellectual world.

The Hermetic cast of Kircher's thought, which was foreign to the concerns of those propelling the Age of Reason, coupled with the breadth of his interests, caused many of his contributions to be widely overlooked--an oversight now masterfully rectified by Joscelyn Godwin. It has been said that Kircher could think only in images. While this is an exaggeration, 400 of the stunning engravings that are a distinguishing feature of his work are included here so we may fully appreciate, learn from, and see for ourselves the life work, philosophy, and achievements of "the last man who knew everything."

JOSCELYN GODWIN, musicologist and translator, is a professor of music at Colgate University. He first explored the life and work of Athanasius Kircher in 1979 in his book A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge.  Godwin was educated at Cambridge and Cornell Universities and has authored and edited many books on Hermeticism and music, including Cosmic Music, The Golden Thread, The Harmony of the Spheres, and Arktos: The Polar Myth.  He is also known for his translations of the works of such figures as Fabre d'Olivet and Julius Evola and the first complete English translation of Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. He lives in New York state.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions; First Edition edition (September 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594773297
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594773297
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 1.3 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,128,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In 2002 was celebrated the 400th anniversary of the birth of Athanasius Kircher. Athanasius Who? That might have been the reaction of everyone except the participants of a symposium on Kircher's life and work that was part of the celebration. Joscelyn Godwin says that he was watching television when a ribbon of words passed under the talking head: "WAS ATHANASIUS KIRCHER THE COOLEST GUY EVER, OR WHAT?" "It seemed for a moment," Godwin writes, "that I had slipped into a parallel universe in which it was not politicians and catastrophes that had made the morning headlines, but subjects of real interest to me." Godwin is a musicologist and translator who has explored Kircher and his works for thirty years, and his publications about Kircher are now crowned with a gorgeous book, _Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World: The Life and Work of the Last Man to Search for Universal Knowledge_ (Inner Traditions). This is a coffee table book for those who are interested in the Renaissance or the history of science, or of linguistics, or of music, or of optics, or of the countless other subjects Kircher wrote about. It is a large sized and glossy book, containing over four hundred illustrations that are mostly woodcuts and engravings from Kircher's many publications. The intricate, spectacular pictures range from the bizarre to the practical, and plenty of them have complexities that can only be appreciated with Godwin's notes: "In order for modern people to enjoy this kind of activity," writes Godwin, "most of them need a helping hand across the gulf of history, culture, religion, and erudition that yawns between Kircher's age and ours." The help will be deeply appreciated by anyone spending time on these curious pictures.Read more ›
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Format: 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".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have had the small paperback on Kircher by the same author from the 70s and finally a well done book has been released on this curious creative man from ages back....
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By Rue on October 22, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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