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Allison Kavey. Books of Secrets: Natural Philosophy in England, 1550–1600. Champaign, IL:
University of Illinois Press. 2007, 197 pp. $40.
By Zoe Marquardt
The volumes referenced in this book’s title do not immediately appear to belong to an existing genre of writing: they include not only treatises devoted to the mysteries of the natural world, but also guides to ordering one’s domestic space and a manual for the proper care of horses. The author argues that although these instructive texts do not explicitly examine the enigmas of nature, they are no less embedded with secrets than are the works that address natural phenomena exclusively. Books of Secrets considers the popularity of natural philosophy books at the time they were published and demonstrates the formal similarities between “academic” and “practical” texts. Kavey also shows how secrets are inflected by the gender- and class-specific contexts in which they appear. The author’s conclusion—that books of secrets uniquely link scientific knowledge and social instruction—is relevant to studies of 16th-century English history and print culture, sociology of science, and epistemology of reading.
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