Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Children's Nonfiction Science & Technology

The Man Who Knew Everything

The Strange Life of Athanasius Kircher

by (author) Marilee Peters

illustrated by Roxanna Bikadoroff

Annick Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2017
Science & Technology, Renaissance, Earthquakes & Volcanoes
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2017
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2017
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Dec 2017
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 0
  • Grade: p to 12
  • Reading age: 0



The Man Who Knew Everything is a biography of Athanasius Kircher, a 17th-century German Jesuit and scientist. He was one of the modern world’s first scientific celebrities—the Einstein or Stephen Hawking of his time. In 1638, Kircher was lowered into the smoking crater of Mt. Vesuvius to observe how volcanoes work. After thirty years, he published an 800-page volume of his findings—along with theories about fossils, geography, the Earth’s core, dragons, the location of the lost city of Atlantis, and more.




Kircher has been described as the last Renaissance man, the first postmodernist, and “the man who knew everything.” The Man Who Knew Everything celebrates Kircher’s insatiable curiosity, his willingness to ask questions and to suggest answers, even when he sometimes got it wrong.




Peters’ dramatic re-telling of Kircher’s life is complemented by colorized versions of his etchings, and lively illustrations by the award-winning artist, Roxanna Bikadoroff.


About the authors

Marilee Peters is a former librarian who over the years has written about politics, theater, the environment, parenting, farming, and health, among other topics. She is the author of Patient Zero, 10 Rivers That Shaped the World, and Making it Right. She lives with her family in Vancouver, BC.

Marilee Peters' profile page

Roxanna Bikadoroff is an award-winning Canadian artist whose illustrations have been published internationally for more than twenty-five years. Her work has been published (and shown) in Canada, the United States, Japan, England, Ireland, Europe, Romania, Brazil, Israel, and China. Her illustrations have appeared in hundreds of magazines and newspapers, including The New Yorker and The Walrus magazine and on numerous book covers. She works in a variety of mediums, has won numerous awards, and has served twice as a judge for the National Magazine Awards. She was born in Montreal and currently lives in Vancouver.

Roxanna Bikadoroff's profile page

Excerpt: The Man Who Knew Everything: The Strange Life of Athanasius Kircher (by (author) Marilee Peters; illustrated by Roxanna Bikadoroff)


Rome, 1655


The carriage rumbled through the maze of narrow, cobblestoned streets. As it passed by, people pointed and chattered. Queen Christina of Sweden, one of the most brilliant and fascinating women in all of Europe, had just arrived in Rome, and the whole city was clamoring to meet her. But the queen had refused all the invitations to glittering parties. Instead, she wanted to go to a museum.




Not just any museum, mind you—the Kircherian Museum, a collection of the most exotic, unusual, and awe-inducing objects the world had to offer.




Finally, the queen’s carriage stopped before a long, pale-pink marble building, and her coachman opened the heavy, gilded carriage door. A man in dark priest’s robes stood by the building’s massive carved entrance. But this was no ordinary priest. This was the most famous scientist in all of Europe.




“Athanasius Kircher,” Queen Christina exclaimed as she raced up the steps toward him. “I’ve been dying to meet you.”




The Man Who Knew Everything


Step inside the Kircherian Museum! Feast your eyes upon the strangest wonders ever collected under one roof: A mermaid’s bones. A brick from the Tower of Babel. A statue that speaks. Marvel at strange fossils and exotic animals, at magnetic clocks and musical machines. Behold Egyptian obelisks covered in mysterious hieroglyphics, a hall of mirrors, and more curiosities than you could ever dream of.




How did the Kircherian Museum come to hold all these bizarre and fantastical objects? And who was its mysterious owner—the man Queen Christina had turned down all Rome’s wealthy and powerful to meet?




Athanasius Kircher was more than a scientist. He was a star. No single description could contain him. He was an inventor, an author, an adventurer. He published books on music, math, travel, and medicine. He built microscopes and machines. He spoke dozens of languages, and could break secret codes. He claimed to know what lay under the earth and why the sky was blue.He had even descended inside an active volcano—and lived to tell the tale! People called him “The Man Who Knew Everything.”




Kircher was a curious man, living in a time when there were many more questions about the world than there were answers. And he believed that by asking the right questions, he could understand all the mysteries of the universe.




Did he always get it right? Not even close! His translations of Egyptian hieroglyphics were nonsense. His speaking statue was a fraud. He gave stories and myths the same weight as facts. Kircher was a showman as much as a scientist—closer to P.T. Barnum than to Einstein. So how did he become his era’s biggest scientific celebrity, and why are people still fascinated by him today?


Editorial Reviews


For other books by Marilee Peters:




10 Rivers That Shaped the World


Green Book Festival Award, Second Place


Best Books for Kids & Teens, Canadian Children’s Book Centre


Silver Birch Award nomination, Ontario Library Association




“[A]ccessible and lively … A well-turned, involving introduction.” —Kirkus Reviews




“With a colorful, engaging layout and a unique approach to its topic, this approachable title is a solid entry point to both geography and world history.” —Booklist




Making It Right


“This teen-friendly approach to alternative justice is accessible and engaging. Recommended where there is an interest in social justice issues.” —School Library Journal




“Important reading for preteens and teens.” —Booklist




“[Peters’s] style is engaging, she lays out complex topics in a manner that is easy to understand without being condescending, and the scenarios she presents are relatable.” —Quill &?Quire




Patient Zero


CCBC Choices 2015, Cooperative Children’s Book Center


Best Books for Kids & Teens, Canadian Children’s Book Centre


Red Cedar Book Award finalist




“The book reads like a thriller, with gripping accounts of how these diseases affected people.” —School Library Journal




“[T]he mysterious nature of unexplained epidemics is perfectly captured.” —Kirkus Reviews




“Their stories and those of victims of these diseases are given the you-are-there treatment in Peters’s page-turner.”


—School Library Journal




For other books by Roxanna Bikadoroff:




The Alphabet Thief, by Bill Richardson (Groundwood, March 2017)


“The ink-and-watercolor illustrations share space with the text in energetically varied layouts.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A colorful figure in the history of science whose ‘misses’ are as entertaining and instructive as his ‘hits.’”—Kirkus Reviews, 08/15/17

Kirkus Reviews

“Engaging and funny, this biography uses history to think critically about how knowledge is found. A winning addition to nonfiction collections.” —School Library Journal, 09/01/17

School Library Journal

Other titles by

Other titles by

Related lists