Books for the News, History and Philosophy of Science, Medieval and Renaissance

Alchemy rediscovered

book coverToday’s New York Times carries an article by John Noble Wilford on the revival of academic interest in alchemy. The article was occasioned by a conference late last month, hosted by the Chemical Heritage Foundation and organized by Lawrence M. Principe.
The Times article discusses the research presented at the alchemy conference including a paper by William R. Newman. Newman spoke about Issac Newton’s fascination with alchemy: “his notebooks contain thousands of pages on alchemic thoughts and experiments over 30 years,” reports the Times.
Chicago has published a number of books that reflect the new interest in alchemy. Principe and Newman collaborated on Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry, which argues that many of the principles and practices characteristic of modern chemistry derive from alchemy. They also edited a key alchemical text, the Alchemical Laboratory Notebooks and Correspondence of George Starkey.
Newman is the author of the recently published Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution, in which he challenges the view that alchemy impeded the development of rational chemistry. Newman also wrote Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature, an investigation of the how alchemists thought about the difference between the natural and the artificial. We have an excerpt from Promethean Ambitions.