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Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture / Edition 1

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Overview

By explaining how to sire multicolored horses, produce nuts without shells, and create an egg the size of a human head, Giambattista Della Porta's Natural Magic (1559) conveys a fascination with tricks and illusions that makes it a work difficult for historians of science to take seriously. Yet, according to William Eamon, it is in the "how-to" books written by medieval alchemists, magicians, and artisans that modern science has its roots. These compilations of recipes on everything from parlor tricks through medical remedies to wool-dyeing fascinated medieval intellectuals because they promised access to esoteric "secrets of nature." In closely examining this rich but little-known source of literature, Eamon reveals that printing technology and popular culture had as great, if not stronger, an impact on early modern science as did the traditional academic disciplines.

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Editorial Reviews

Nature
Eamon gives a rich and lively account of authors and writings that were always unacademic, unscrupulous, unprofessional, turbulent, and unsettled: that is to say, an account of the popular or seamy side of medicine and natural knowledge in medieval and early modern times.... A book of many unusual topics.... Eamon is very learned and writes eloquently.
— A. Rupert Hall
The New York Times Book Review
Eamon ... provide[s] plenty of material for thought in this multifaceted volume.
— Charles Burnett
The Times Literary Supplement
Unusually well crafted. . . . Eamon has many valuable things to say about science as a sacrament.
— John North
Nature - A. Rupert Hall
Eamon gives a rich and lively account of authors and writings that were always unacademic, unscrupulous, unprofessional, turbulent, and unsettled: that is to say, an account of the popular or seamy side of medicine and natural knowledge in medieval and early modern times.... A book of many unusual topics.... Eamon is very learned and writes eloquently.
The New York Times Book Review - Charles Burnett
Eamon ... provide[s] plenty of material for thought in this multifaceted volume.
The Times Literary Supplement - John North
Unusually well crafted. . . . Eamon has many valuable things to say about science as a sacrament.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 1994 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in History, Association of American Publishers

"Eamon gives a rich and lively account of authors and writings that were always unacademic, unscrupulous, unprofessional, turbulent, and unsettled: that is to say, an account of the popular or seamy side of medicine and natural knowledge in medieval and early modern times.... A book of many unusual topics.... Eamon is very learned and writes eloquently."—A. Rupert Hall, Nature

"Eamon ... provide[s] plenty of material for thought in this multifaceted volume."—Charles Burnett, The New York Times Book Review

"Unusually well crafted. . . . Eamon has many valuable things to say about science as a sacrament."—John North, The Times Literary Supplement

Nature
Eamon gives a rich and lively account of authors and writings that were always unacademic, unscrupulous, unprofessional, turbulent, and unsettled: that is to say, an account of the popular or seamy side of medicine and natural knowledge in medieval and early modern times.... A book of many unusual topics.... Eamon is very learned and writes eloquently.
— A. Rupert Hall
Library Journal
Eamon (history, New Mexico State Univ.) convincingly argues that the medieval books of secrets were an integral part of popular science and evolved into the new scientific philosophy of the Renaissance. In these books, natural philosophers began to compile and publish their recipes of natural magic. Their secrets ranged from stain removal formulas and iron-tempering techniques to love potions and plague cures. The books, coupled with the rise of printing, created a boom in ``popular'' or nonacademic science. Eamon also chronicles the work of a few magicians to illustrate the evolving nature of what constituted a secret. The philosophy behind the secrets shifted from traditionally believed, divinely revealed, and occult phenomena to experimentally discovered natural effects and causes. This is a significant contributon to the history of science and medicine. However, some background knowledge of 16th - and 17th - century Europe is helpful. Recommended for all history of science collections.-- Eric D. Albright, Northwestern Univ. Lib., Chicago
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691026022
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 5/13/1996
  • Series: Princeton Paperbacks Series
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 510
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 9.19 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Tables
Acknowledgments
Notes on Conventions and Usage
Introduction: Printing, Popular Culture, and the Scientific Revolution 3
Pt. 1 The Literature of Secrets 13
1 The Literature of Secrets in the Middle Ages 15
2 Knowledge and Power 38
Pt. 2 The Secrets of Nature in the Age of Printing 91
3 Arcana Disclosed 93
4 The Professors of Secrets and Their Books 134
5 Leonardo Fioravanti, Vendor of Secrets 168
6 Natural Magic and the Secrets of Nature 194
7 The Secrets of Nature in Popular Culture 234
Pt. 3 The "New Philosophy" 267
8 Science as a Venatio 269
9 The Virtuosi and the Secrets of Nature 301
10 From the Secrets of Nature to Public Knowledge 319
Conclusion 351
Appendix: Secreti Italiani: Italian Booklets of Secrets, ca. 1520-1643 361
Abbreviations 367
Notes 369
Bibliography 431
Index 481
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