Be the alchemist Explore the legend of alchemy with the science of chemistry. Read more...
Be the alchemist Explore the legend of alchemy with the science of chemistry. Enjoy over twenty hands-on demonstrations of alchemical reactions.
In this exploration of the ancient art of alchemy, three veteran chemists show that the alchemists' quest involved real science and they recount fascinating stories of the sages who performed these strange experiments.
Why waste more words on this weird deviation in the evolution of chemistry? As the authors show, the writings of medieval alchemists may seem like the ravings of brain-addled fools, but there is more to the story than that.
Recent scholarship has shown that some seemingly nonsensical mysticism is, in fact, decipherable code, and Western European alchemists functioned from a firmer theoretical foundation than previously thought. They had a guiding principle, based on experience: separate and purify materials by fire and reconstitute them into products, including, of course, gold and the universal elixir, the Philosophers' stone.
Their efforts were not in vain: by trial, by error, by design, and by persistence, the alchemists discovered acids, alkalis, alcohols, salts, and exquisite, powerful, and vibrant reactions--which can be reproduced using common products, minerals, metals, and salts.
So gather your vats and stoke your fires Get ready to make burning waters, peacocks' tails, Philosophers' stone, and, of course, gold
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-05-05
- Reviewer: Staff
The authors, all chemists, provide armchair alchemists with a series of tales showing the efforts across centuries to produce a method for changing a base metal into gold. They admit that they are not historians, and the apocryphal nature of their sketches demonstrates this. However, they write with wry humor and sympathy for those who endangered their lives—and souls—in the quest. The book’s real hook is the (al)chemical experiments at each chapter’s end. Beginning with the distillation of salt water to produce salt and potable water, the authors swiftly progress to more complicated transformations. They emphasize safety glasses and good air circulation—two things their predecessors lacked—and with standard high school lab equipment, a stove, a hibachi, and some care, amazing results can be reproduced: tin appears to become gold, while seashells dissolve and are reborn as “pearls.” The authors also give credit to the alchemists for useful discoveries, as when they distilled wine to its essence, “the water of life,” thus starting the liquor industry. Even if one isn’t brave enough to try the kitchen experiments, reading about them conveys the joy of working with retorts, alembics, and heat just to see what happens. (July)