A spellbinding portrait of Queen Elizabeth’s conjuror – the great philosopher, scientist and magician, Dr John Dee (1527–1608) and a history of Renaissance science that could well be the next ‘Longitude’.
John Dee was one of the most influential philosophers of the Elizabethan Age. A close confidant of Queen Elizabeth, he helped to introduce mathematics to England, promoted the idea of maths as the basis of science, anticipated the invention of the telescope, charted the New World, and created one of the most magnificent libraries in Europe. At the height of his fame, Dee was poised to become one of the greats of the Renaissance. Yet he died in poverty and obscurity – his crime was to dabble in magic.
Based on Dee’s secret diaries which record in fine detail his experiments with the occult, Woolley’s bestselling book is a rich brew of Elizabethan court intrigue, science, intellectual exploration, discovery and misfortune. And it tells the story of one man’s epic but very personal struggle to come to terms with the fundamental dichotomy of the scientific age at the point it arose: the choice between ancient wisdom and modern science as the path to truth.
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‘Fresh and original…Woolley thinks and writes beautifully. This is a distinguished and rather brilliant book – it’s also a rattling good story.’ Lisa Jardine
‘A fascinating, brilliant account of the Renaissance world picture…’ Kathryn Hughes, New Statesman
‘Woolley handsomely captures a society torn between rationality and romance, cynicism and hero worship.’ New Scientist
‘An informative and enlightening book. It offers concise and lucid explanations of Dee’s more abstruse and arcane theories. And it is immensely enjoyable, its narrative exciting and inexorable. I have not read as stimulating a study of the Elizabethan period since Charles Nicholl’s book on Marlowe, “The Reckoning”.’ Thomas Wright, Daily Telegraph
Praise for ‘The Herbalist’:
‘The research is superb – rich, detailed, and original – and the lives Benjamin Woolley describes are as passionate as the great events of the English Civil War around which they orbit.’ Adam Nicolson
About the author
Benjamin Woolley is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He is the author of the best-selling The Queen's Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr John Dee. His first book, Virtual Worlds was short-listed for the Rhone-Poulenc prize and has been translated into eight languages. His second, ‘The Bride of Science’, examined the life of Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter. He has written and presented documentaries for the BBC on subjects ranging from the fight for liberty during the English Civil War to the end of the Space Age. He has won the Arts Journalist of the Year award and an Emmy for his commentary for Discovery's 'Three Minutes to Impact'. He lives in London.