Books of Secrets

Natural Philosophy in England, 1550-1600
Author: Allison Kavey
How cultural categories shaped--and were shaped by--new ideas about controlling nature
Cloth – $44
978-0-252-03209-7
eBook – $19.95
978-0-252-09159-9
Publication Date: October 2007
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About the Book

The rise of print culture in early modern England is one of the most important and most frequently studied changes of the period. Often viewed as a marker of modernity, this shift provides the starting point for Books of Secrets, which illuminates how sixteenth-century English culture was influenced by one particular type of print matter--"books of secrets." Ranging from alchemy to necromancy, these texts offered medieval readers an affordable and accessible collection of knowledge about the natural world.

Studying not only the content of these books but also uncovering how readers digested and reacted to it, Allison Kavey delves into several aspects of book production and consumption in early modern England. Books of Secrets examines familiar concerns of publishing--promotion, pricing, audience identification, and manipulation of structure and content--to show how books of secrets were part of a broad cultural effort to make elite knowledge popular and, in so doing, also make it legitimate and acceptable. Citing the importance of printers in choosing and structuring the books' contents, Kavey investigates how print materials record and store prevailing cultural myths and ideas about manipulating nature, while also generating new ones. She points out that books of secrets legitimized this process, thereby expanding cultural categories, such as masculinity, femininity, gentleman, lady, and midwife to include the willful command of the natural world.

About the Author

Allison Kavey is an assistant professor of history at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.