Zygmunt Bauman was unquestionably one of the most popular contemporary thinkers. His writings provoked not only worldwide acclaim but also severe criticism, while the complexities of his personal life gave rise to international controversies. On the basis of three recently published biographies of Bauman, as well as a personal acquaintance and scholarly cooperation, in this paper I attempt to explain the sources of his astounding popularity, but also try to dispel mysteries and controversies surrounding his difficult carrier, especially those pertaining to the critical assessments of the scholarly quality of his work. I argue that having been released from academic duties, gradually and ever more boldly he abandoned the regime of scientific explanatory poetics in favour of an interpretative narrative of the social world, helping himself to the results of science, but also to idiosyncratically read works of poetry and fiction. Flouting academic orthodoxies, Bauman developed a unique art of transforming scientific knowledge into wisdom, and transformed himself from a scientist into a sage.