The Chemistry of Alchemy by Cathy Cobb, Monty L. Fetterolf, and Harold Goldwhite Comes Complete with Recipes

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The Chemistry of Alchemy Cathy Cobb MOnty Fetterolf Harold GoldwhiteIn The Chemistry of Alchemy Cobb, Fetterolf, and Godlwhite look at alchemy as a subject in its own right, not as an embarrassing precursor to chemistry. They trace the steps that led to our modern chemistry, but they also look at what the alchemists thought they were doing and what they accomplished. What’s more, they provide recipes for those readers who want to try alchemy at home.

The Chemistry of Alchemy begins in approximately 300 CE in Egypt, with Zisomos the Alexandrian and finishes in England in the seventeenth century with Robert Boyle, the skeptical alchemist who tested his theories. It is a fascinating guide for those whose only prior exposure to alchemy has been the philosopher’s stone and the search to turn lead into gold. The alchemists sought these things, but they sought, and did, so much more, growing strange metal “trees,” finding new ways of distilling, discovering dyes and mordants, and uncovering the secret of fine porcelain.

They sought knowledge. They conned people out of their coin. They were firm believers in the knowledge handed down to them from the past, and sometimes questioners. The Chemistry of Alchemy presents a wide array of individuals, giving brief, vivid portraits of each individual before turning to his or her work.

And then there are the recipes. If you have or are willing to purchase some basic laboratory equipment and have access to a suitably ventilated pet-and-child-free space, then you can duplicate some of the alchemists’ experiments. Cobb, Fetterolf, and Goldwhite have teased out the recipes from the often elaborate language, removed the mercury, which they postulate was added more because the alchemists believe it was necessary than because it actually was a part of the reaction, and written out directions for, among other things, making alchemical gold, growing the Tree of Diana, and creating Glauber’s “gardens.”

A note on these last: They are not written like kitchen recipes but in full paragraphs. The lively asides and commentary on their own progress made for entertaining and enlightening reading—much more so than the average recipe—but those wishing to follow the directions might want to keep index cards (which can handle stains and spills) handy for writing out a more traditional recipe with easily distinguished steps.

As Cobb, Fetterolf, and Goldwhite mention in their apologia, in order to keep things to a manageable length, the book covers Western European alchemy, although there were numerous other alchemical traditions. As they provide brief biographies, descriptions of the alchemical processes, and recipes for each chapter, there is plenty of material go cover.

The three authors clearly relish their subject, and their enjoyment comes through in the pages. The book is recommended for those who enjoy history, science, biographies, and well-written non-fiction.

: From Dragon’s Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged by Cathy Cobb, Monty Fetterolf, and Harold Goldwhite is available now. To order from Amazon, click the link in the title.

Publication information:
Hardcover, 364 pages
Published: July 1st 2014
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 1616149159 (ISBN13: 9781616149154)

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