a new york times book
review "editor's choice"


published by
riverhead books


out in paperback


german edition



available from




media




about the book


This is the vivid, unconventional story of Athanasius Kircher, the legendary seventeenth-century priest-scientist who was either a great genius or a colossal crackpot . . . or a bit of both.

Kircher’s interests knew no bounds. From optics to music to magnetism to medicine, he offered up inventions and theories for everything, and they made him famous across Europe. His celebrated museum in Rome featured magic lanterns, speaking statues, the tail of a mermaid, and a brick from the Tower of Babel. Holy Roman Emperors were his patrons, popes were his friends, and in his spare time he collaborated with the Baroque master Bernini.

But Kircher lived during an era of radical transformation, in which the old approach to knowledge—what he called the “art of knowing”—was giving way to the scientific method and modern thought. A Man of Misconceptions traces the rise, success, and eventual fall of this fascinating character as he attempted to come to terms with a changing world.

With humor and insight, John Glassie returns Kircher to his rightful place as one of history’s most unforgettable figures.




























a man of misconceptions:
the life of an eccentric in an age of change


"Stirring."
— The New York Times

"Fascinating."
— The New Yorker

"Very entertaining."
— NPR


“You'll feel more knowledgeable about everything because of this book.”
— The Atlantic Wire, “Books We Loved in 2012”

“Hooh boy!”
— Scientific American, “Sampling the Best Science Books of 2012”

"I've been waiting my entire adult life for someone to write a popular biography of the loopy, ingenious scholar-priest Athanasius Kircher, and John Glassie has delivered marvelously. A man of insatiable curiosity and staggeringly diverse intellectual passions, Kircher may have been the greatest polymath of all time—or at least the most eccentric."
— Joshua Foer, bestselling author of Moonwalking with Einstein

"Fun and magisterial ... A simply fascinating book about a fascinating figure."
— Baltimore City Paper

“What a brilliant and revealing book about a fascinating character, one I had no previous knowledge about.”
— Abraham Verghese, bestselling author of Cutting for Stone

"John Glassie may not have deliberately written a work of such destabilizing profundity, but given the impact of this short book on my thinking, I can’t help but to compare its effect to some sort of alchemical cure."
— Goodreads.com reviewer

"In his quirky biography … Mr. Glassie uses Kircher as something of a comic foil to show how erroneous ideas about investigating nature helped lead to modern science... [A] spirited telling."
— The Wall Street Journal

"I loved this book; it's made me think of "eccentric" as a compliment! Kircher may not have had all the answers, but his curiosity and intellect shine through his misconceptions. We should all be as engaged in the world around us and as eager to learn."
— Amazon Vine reviewer

“A Man of Misconceptions leaves you contemplating the big questions, delightedly scratching your head, and laughing—all at the same time.”
—Mark Kurlansky, bestselling author of Cod and Salt

"In the course of his life, Kircher opined, almost invariably incorrectly, about the nature of light, magnetism, and the geography of the earth... . Glassie has a genuine affection for Kircher despite the latter's laughably bizarre theories and self-aggrandizing egotism. In fact, the author's affection humanizes Kircher, making him oddly credible."
— Starred Publishers Weekly review

"Why hasn't Hollywood filmed this yet?.... A delight to read ... and funny as all get out as well.... Just be prepared to learn something."
— Amazon Vine reviewer

"His sharp eye for the absurd helps Glassie make Kircher's story interesting and superbly human.... Glassie tells Kircher's complex story with humor and genuine passion, using fascinating details to bring us into Kircher's world."
— Bookslut

“Glassie brings the ultimate mad professor Athanasius Kircher vividly to life, revealing him to be a kind of cross between Leonardo da Vinci and Mr. Bean. A most entertaining foray into the history of science.”
—Ross King, bestselling author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Leonardo and the Last Supper

"Excellent. ... An entertaining and enlightening biography."
— Booklist

“A marvelous insight into the mind of one of the world’s most eccentric thinkers. Glassie brings Kircher to life—and what a life it is!”
—Adrian Tinniswood, author of The Verneys and Pirates of Barbary

"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."
— Amazon Vine reviewer