The Devil's Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science

Philip Ball, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $26 (436p) ISBN 978-0-374-22979-5

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.)

Reviewed on: 01/02/2006
Release date: 04/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-1-4299-2182-4
Paperback - 435 pages - 978-0-09-945787-9
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