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The Professor of Secrets: Mystery, Medicine, and Alchemy in Renaissance Italy

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  129 ratings  ·  25 reviews
In the tradition of Galileo's Daughter and Brunelleschi's Dome, this exciting story illuminates the captivating world of the late Renaissance-in this case its plagues, remedies, and alchemy-through the life of Leonardo Fioravanti, a brilliant, remarkably forward-thinking, and utterly unconventional doctor. Fioravanti's marvelous cures and talent for self-aggrandizement ear ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published July 20th 2010 by National Geographic (first published 2010)
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David Schwan
Jul 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of Medicine and Alchemy. Prior to reading this book I had always placed Alchemy more on the side of making gold and creating the philosopher's stone. This book clearly shows the more practical side of Alchemy and it's place as the precursor to modern Chemistry. The whole notion of academic medicine during this time was balancing the four humor's that were thought to exist in the body. Leonardo Fioravanti thought otherwise, and practiced a blend of surgery, pharmacy, and sanit ...more
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Was curious about this book as it sounded interesting. And it is to a point. At times it's redundant and build upon speculation. After a time the speculation got to be too much and I gave up on it. But did learn some about the history of medicine in Italy. ...more
Jan 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I love learning about pivotal historic figures. Learning about Renaissance medical history was a mental treat. I appreciate that the author tells when he is conjecturing, rather than reporting facts. Altogether an informative and enjoyable book.
Jun 23, 2010 is currently reading it
Fascinating! Fun window into Renaissance Italy for sure.
Jul 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-audio, quest
This was a pretty decent biography/history of Leonardo Fioravanti. I can't speak for any other work about the guy because this is honestly the first time I remember coming across his name in my life. I've read many books about this period and the history of science, but this dude has never popped up as far as I can recall.

Since it's the first time I've heard of Leonardo Fioravanti, I was able to get a ton of learning out of this, and so it's a great little read/listen for me. I'm only going wit
Aug 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Chapter 3.. So far, what is incredibly cool is that I have been to this place discussed in the opening of this book.. Bologna, Emilia-Romania, Italy. Specifically the University of Bologna.. My Italian host sister, Valentina Lucchi showed me the campus in the middle of the city, as she was planning to later go to college there, for architecture. I've walked these streets discussed in this book. So, for a history book, it's coming to life :) ...more
Dec 22, 2011 rated it liked it
I didn't like the organization of this book. Some chapters were chronological and some where based on a career he pursued, which would span over several of the chronological chapters you've already read and ones you hadn't read yet. The author frequently explained things multiple times. Overall, there were some interesting history mingled in with a lot of uninteresting parts. I wouldn't recommend the book unless you are interested in the history of medicine or Italy. ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I saw this at a bookstore. It looked interesting, so I put it on my to-read list. However, I'd say that the background is more interesting (and well-researched) than the actual subject of the book. If I wanted to read about certain metaphysical topics and obscure aspects of medicine in the Renaissance, I'd definitely take a look at the source list of this book. ...more
Jul 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Oh Joy - a copy of this book is coming to me through the goodreads giveaway program. I cannot wait to get started reading it. I spent time in Florence and loved it. I am hoping this book will carry me both back in time and back to Italy. Simply based on it's title I have high expectations for this book ...more
Jul 22, 2010 marked it as to-read
Looking forward to reading this. I'll have to get the library to order it! ...more
Alison McDonough
Jul 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Only able to read 1/2 of this exceptionally researched bk, but w/holiday stuff I was reading too slow and couldn't get through it. maybe later ...more
Lauren Albert
May 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-european
I found this repetitive. I think it would have made a better long essay.
Nov 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read_and_review
Unfortunately, this just never gets really interesting. The cool stuff like 16th century rhinoplasty is buried under way too many details about the eponymous professor.
Nov 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book sounded really cool, but never really took off. I need something to hold my interest and keep me awake!
Jul 21, 2010 marked it as to-read
Shelves: history
Looking forward to reading this book but I have to wait for my library to order it. Too bad the free giveaway doesn't apply to someone in Canada. ...more
Oct 07, 2017 rated it liked it
A little dry, but somewhat interesting.
Jun 05, 2017 rated it liked it
interesting but very slow going
St Fu
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I hated history in school. Why were we leaning about these kings and such? Who cares who used to be a ruler and what they did? Why should those people be important to me, a non-member of the ruling class?

Of course this attitude, aside from making me almost fail, was defensive on my part. I was a rebel, against the establishment. But also it goes toward how history was taught. Our high school American History text was titled "Story of a Free People." I didn't feel all that free, forced to att
Aug 07, 2012 rated it liked it
An intriguing look at the life of Leonardo Fioravanti, -for all purposes an early physician-, his practices, methods, avocations, secrets, etc. A good background on violent times in Renaissance Italy, and the ways used to treat wounds and ailments.
If there is one criticism to make about this book, it would be that oft time, the author makes a statement that could as well be presented another way, i.e., that Fioravanti was a charlatan fighting to get recognition from the “real” physicians, who go
Sep 30, 2010 rated it liked it
I particularly enjoy the power struggles between physicians and surgeons and the ways in which Fioravanti seeks to undermine his enemies at every possible moment. This book is well worth reading, even in the most squeamish of parts, I enjoyed learning about the advances and how they came about. Eamon does a wonderful job of making the narrative interesting. A good read, and I’ll be looking for more works by Mr. Eamon.

For a more detailed review visit
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
In short, it is an overblown speculative semi-biography of a marginal historical figure. The author tries hard to be sympathetic, even to the point of romanticizing him, but Leonardo is just a celebrity snake oil salesman jerk. Not quite a historical account, not quite a novel, and built on too much conjecture, this book is frustrating, repetitive, and generally a waste of time. It follows the format of "edutainment" where history itself is not good enough for an easily bored audience. ...more
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am now convinced that whoever National Geographic chooses to be a expert-in-residence is AMAZING! Eamon bring to Life and the light of day, the first celebrity doctor, Leonardo Fioravanti. It is factual and entertaining - a must read for those interested in history, or medicine, or both or neither :)
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable book about a famous physician/alchemist in late Renaissance Italy. He was one of the first to do 'name brand' mail order medicine, self-promotion in his books, just generally being just like a modern informercial doctor. I really enjoyed learning about the empirical medical community and alchemy for the pharmeceutical industry. ...more
Terri Hale
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating book about the science and mystery of alchemy during the middle ages. It was a great research source.
Jun 28, 2013 rated it liked it
This book had a lot of interesting material on renaissance Italy and the history of medicine. Unfortunately it was very repetitive and dragged in places.
rated it it was ok
Jul 19, 2010
Spencer Mclean
rated it liked it
Mar 15, 2013
Regina Hunter
rated it liked it
Jul 21, 2010
rated it really liked it
Nov 30, 2010
rated it liked it
Mar 09, 2014
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I am Regents Professor of History and Dean of the Honors College at New Mexico State University, where I have taught history of science and European history for almost 30 years. I’m a specialist in the history of science and medicine in Renaissance Italy and Spain, and most of what I write is about the origins of modern science. I have written and edited 3 books and more than 50 articles, essays, ...more

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