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Book description

The story of the beliefs and practices called 'magic' starts in ancient Iran, Greece, and Rome, before entering its crucial Christian phase in the Middle Ages. Centering on the Renaissance and Marsilio Ficino - whose work on magic was the most influential account written in premodern times - this groundbreaking book treats magic as a classical tradition with foundations that were distinctly philosophical. Besides Ficino, the premodern story of magic also features Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus, Aquinas, Agrippa, Pomponazzi, Porta, Bruno, Campanella, Descartes, Boyle, Leibniz, and Newton, to name only a few of the prominent thinkers discussed in this book. Because pictures play a key role in the story of magic, this book is richly illustrated.


'Brian P. Copenhaver’s Magic in Western Culture is a towering achievement in the field of intellectual history that is evidently the product of years - or decades, one suspects - of its author’s immersion in the primary sources. In spite of its focus on the history of magic, this book is in fact essential reading for students of the history of ideas, the history of philosophy, the history of medicine, the history of science and even students of art history, since Copenhaver places great stress on the significance of images in both the development and the dismemberment of the western magical tradition. It would be a shame if the book’s readership were confined to historians of magic, since its significance is so much more far-reaching.'

Francis Young Source: Reviews in History

'This is a significant work that brings together decades of thinking about an important subject for the history of science and helps to cast it in a new light. It is grand in scope and ambition, seeking a big picture that provides a convincing account and critique of writings about magic over a long period.'

Richard Dunn Source: British Journal for the History of Science

'Magic in Western Culture is the culmination of nearly half a century of research on the magical and occult tradition in Europe. … This is a very rich book …'

Rienk Vermij Source: Isis

'Brian P. Copenhaver is an eminence grise in the history of magic especially as it relates to the history and philosophy of science in the Renaissance; he has been grounding, clarifying, and revising the scholarly understanding of early modern magic and its philosophical-cosmological underpinnings for some four decades now … Magic in Western Culture remains a book filled with intellectual treasures; it is also a handy updated collection of some of Copenhaver’s best work on the history of magic in a package that both scholars and students will take pleasure in reading.'

Claire Fanger Source: Metascience

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