[UCP Books]: The Secrets of Alchemy

“Making sense out of alchemy is nearly as consuming and difficult a project as making gold with it.  Lawrence M. Principe has the requisite clarity of mind and purity of heart, as well as a willingness to risk getting burned (literally!).  The Secrets of Alchemy is an eminently lucid treatment of a tenebrous subject, at once learned and reader-friendly, and enormously winning.”
John Crowley, author of Little, Big

The Secrets of Alchemy
By Lawrence M. Principe

Publication Date: November 16, 2012 978-0-226-68295-2
UK Publication Date: December 10, 2012 $45.00/£29.00


It takes money to make money. Or does it? For centuries many hoped that it just took time and experimentation to turn the everyday—iron, nickel, lead—into valuable gold. In The Secrets of Alchemy, Lawrence M. Principe brings us inside the actual work and practice of alchemy. Principe, one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject, brings alchemy out of the shadows and restores it to its important place in human history and culture. He provides a full history of alchemy from the Greeks to Harry Potter and surveying what it was and how it began, developed, and overlapped with a range of ideas and pursuits. He vividly depicts the place of alchemy during its heyday in early modern Europe, and then explores how it has fit into wider views of the cosmos and humanity, touching on its enduring place in literature, fine art, theater, and religion, as well as its recent acceptance as a serious subject of study for historians of science.
In addition, he introduces the reader to some of the most fascinating alchemists, such as Zosimos and Basil Valentine, whose lives dot alchemy’s long reign from the third century to the present day. Principe pieces together closely guarded clues from obscure and fragmented texts to reveal alchemy’s secrets and—most exciting for us budding alchemists—uses them to recreate many of the most famous recipes in his lab, including those for the “glass of antimony” and “philosophers’ tree.” And, he vividly documents his attempts at all of these experiments here, his firsthand experiences make this completely unlike any other book on the subject.

Lawrence M. Principe is the Drew Professor of the Humanities in the Department of the History of Science and Technology and the Department of Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. His books include The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction and Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry, the latter co-authored with William Newman and published by the University of Chicago Press. He is available for interviews.

Please contact Carrie Olivia Adams at 773-702-4216 or cadams@press.uchicago.edu for more information.


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