The Art of Magic from Faustus to Agrippa


A revelatory new account of the magus - the learned magician - and his place in the world of Renaissance Europe

At the heart of the extraordinary ferment of the High Renaissance stood a distinctive, strange and beguiling figure: the magus. An unstable mix of scientist, bibliophile, engineer, fabulist and fraud, the magus ushered in modern physics and chemistry while also working on everything from secret codes to siege engines to magic tricks.

Anthony Grafton's wonderfully original book discusses the careers of men who somehow managed to be both figures of startling genius and - by some measures - credulous or worse. The historical Faust, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Trithemius and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa are all fascinating characters, closely linked to monarchs, artists and soldiers and sitting at the heart of any definition of why the Renaissance was a time of such restless innovation. The study of the stars, architecture, warfare, even medicine: all of these and more were revolutionized in some way by the experiments and tricks of these extraordinary individuals.

No book does a better job of allowing us to understand the ways that magic, religion and science were once so intertwined and often so hard to tell apart.


  • ‘The magi were tricksters and con artists, unemployed students or priests, members of monastic orders, artists and occultists who shared the belief that knowledge could transform the world. They were the crucible in which science was formed … Magus is a brilliantly vivid exercise in intellectual history, as told through the biographies of the early modern magi, which will stir the thoughts of everyone who reads it … The implication of Grafton’s mind-changing book is that our age of science may be one of the most extreme periods of magical thinking in history’
    John Gray, New Statesman

About the author

Anthony Grafton

Anthony Grafton is the author of The Footnote, Defenders of the Text, Forgers and Critics, and Inky Fingers, among other books. The Henry Putnam University Professor of History and the Humanities at Princeton University, he writes regularly for the New York Review of Books.
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