Cardano's life was, in fact, an impressive catalogue of disappointments. He was born illegitimate, which kept him out of many appointments and organizations. His mother tried to abort him, which gave him medical problems for the rest of his life. His late marriage was unhappy, his son homicidal, his daughter left no children. And yet he wrote, and wrote happily, and extremely productively. He was the first to publish the solutions to cubic and quartic equations and introduced the binomial theorem. He invented the combination lock. He published the horoscope of Jesus, and I heard of him first as a respected magician, one of the great Renaissance magisters in the list that includes Giordano Bruno and John Dee. He was arrested for heresy, but let go again. He lived only just too early for the tides of public opinion to turn against him the way that they did to Bruno.
His autobiography is organized according to a system that is keyed to some sort of astrological correspondences; in fact it grew out of commentaries on his own horoscope, which he was writing to teach others how to interpret various planetary conjunctions. As a result, it's nit-pickingly precise over things such as what he ate for lunch at twelve years old and at twenty, leaves out almost entirely any discussion of the field in which he made his name, lists his friends by what influence he thinks they represent and tells you medical things you'd rather not know. He is pessimistic, frightened, grieving, on the borders of unhinged by loss, luminous, logical, cold, and magnificent. It is one of the most intensely boring books I have not been able to put down.
I don't know whether I'll get around to Cardano, but this is a very charming review.
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