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The Devil's Doctor


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The first 'life and times' in over forty years of one of the most fascinating figures of scientific history, by the winner of the 2005 Aventis Science Book Prize. Brings to life the ferment of post-Reformation Europe, in the spirit of Frances Stonor Saunders' Hawkwood.

About the Author

Formerly on the staff of Nature, Philip Ball is now a full-time writer. He lives in London. His books include Critical Mass, winner of the Aventis Prize for Science Books, H20 and Bright Earth. He lives in London.


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.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Ball's (Critical Mass) work beautifully illuminates the life of alchemist, physician, theologian, and astrologer Paracelsus (1493-1541), placing him squarely in the context of the Reformation, a transitional period intellectually and politically for Europe. Periods such as this often produce individuals who influence society in life and beyond, and Paracelsus was such a man. Controversial and mysterious, both vilified and honored, the Swiss physician traveled extensively in an era when few people traveled-though often out of political necessity and not desire-and he always wrote and sought publication. Paracelsus's medical contributions, though sometimes nebulous, reflected ties to the medicine of the past and were harbingers of the medicine of the future. Ball captures and explains all of Paracelsus's idiosyncrasies and contradictions in writing that is clear and enjoyable. Highly recommended for history of science and medicine collections.-Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences, RTP, NC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Praise for The Devil's Doctor
Brilliant... This prodigiously learned volume can only reinforce Ball's reputation as one of our most versatile and gripping science writers. John Carey * Sunday Times *
Stirring and fascinating reading... This is a remarkable piece of work, entertaining and edifying in a way in which so few biographies are. Niall Griffiths * Telegraph *
'This biography is a study of a culture as well as of a man, and in analysing the life and thought of Paracelsus, Ball brings to light a largely forgotten phase of human understanding. It is a considerable achievement.' Peter Ackroyd * The Times *
[A] wonderfully rich biography... Inspiring and important.' * Guardian *
Praise for Critical Mass:

'This is a wide-ranging and dazzlingly informed book. I can promise you'll be amazed.' Bill Bryson * Daily Express *

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