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By William H. Sherman. Amerherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995. Pp. xiv + 291; 9 illustrations. $35.
William Sherman successfully demonstrates that John Dee is more accurately characterized as a polymath rather than as a magus or occult philosopher. This carefully researched study extends recent critiques of the work and influence of Frances Yates and Peter French, arguing that "the Hermetic corpus occupied, at most, a prominent corner of [Dee's] arsenal of universal learning" (p. xiv). Emphasizing the variety of influences on Dee and the pragmatic nature of his reading and writing, Sherman focuses upon the social and political roles that Dee performed as scholarly and scientific advisor to the queen and other powerful figures. He documents Dee's efforts to influence Elizabethan public policy--notably in promoting imperial expansion--and assesses his actual achievement.
Following the introduction, Sherman provides a three-chapter section entitled "Readings." The first of these chapters treats Dee's library and its "appendices": a collection of mathematical instruments; a collection of charters, seals, and coats of arms; a …