Georg Henisch (1549-1618) was one of the most outstanding Renaissance men and humanists in sixteenth-century “middle Europa.” By the same token, he is practically unknown on the other side of Atlantic. Out of his 32 major and minor publications, only six found their way to Yale University’s libraries, and a few others are scattered throughout other US universities. His name is not mentioned in major sixteenth-century source books written by American scholars except for credit given to him as an author of the first Thesaurus. The story starts (Chapter 1) in then upper Hungary, in a town then named Bartfeld. It was a rich town, then dominated by protestant German settlers, and governed by no-nonsense burghers who adhered to rigid moral standards and attempted to live their lives in fear of God and His judgment. Subsequently, the story moves to a parallel history of Augsburg, the town where Georg Henisch spent his entire adult life (1576–1618) and where he died and was buried. It is followed by a description of the education reform and its local implementation postulated by a Catholic Erasmus but fully implemented only by Lutheran followers (Chapter 3). Later, we move to the most outstanding sixteenth-century European university, that in Wittenberg, where our protagonist acquired his premedical education. It was, not by accident, the center where Martin Luther taught and preached and from where the “German heresy” spread like a wildfire through most of the Habsburg Empire and beyond (Chapters 4 and 5.) One of the students at Wittenberg was Georg Henisch’s future employer, Hieronymus Wolf. His life, teachings, and writings had a profound impact on the development of Henisch’s professional identity (Chapter 6.) Wolf was the one who recruited Henisch to come to Augsburg. But before Henisch settled down, he went to Leipzig, Paris, and Basel to earn his medical degree. His medical schooling is presented in Chapter 7 along with a description of and some reflections on sixteenth-century medical education. At Georg Henisch’s time, one could not be a full master of any guild or profession unless he acquired wife and citizenship in the town. The story follows with the acquisition of both: marrying the daughter of an outstanding Augsburg pharmacist who practiced medicine on the side of his profession and gaining rights as a citizen of Augsburg (Chapter 8). The domestic life of the couple and taking care of their four children is a part of the same story. The other part is divided into four sections: his medical practice, teaching, and medical book translations (Chapter 9); his teaching and writing on such diverse subjects as rhetoric, mathematics, geography, astronomy, and philosophy (Chapter 10); his money-making publications of almanacs (Chapter 11); and, finally, his most outstanding accomplishments—making the first printed catalogue of a library and the creation of first-ever thesaurus for the German language, published in 1616 (Chapter 12). Most biographies must end with death. Little is known about his last two years of life as a widower. In official documents, he was described as a querulous old man, but the obituaries gave credit to his life-long teaching and contribution to the town’s welfare and science. A latter invading French army ultimately erased his grave. It was a sad development for the man who believed that the German language maintained its purity from the time of the Tower of Babel until his time due to the fact that the German nation never succumbed to a foreign invasion. Finally it did, though it did not last for a very long time. The book is richly illustrated and has numerous references and footnotes but the text is free of academic and scholastic jargon.
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The author is a psychiatrist and a professor. He was an Assistant Professor in the Medical School in Warsaw, Poland and, upon immigrating to USA, an Associate Professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. After his retirement he published several semi-historical fiction books and ventured into real early modern Europe history with the biography of his ancestor Georg Henisch (1549-1618.)
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