The Chemistry of Alchemy

The Chemistry of Alchemy

From Dragon's Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged

Book - 2014
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Random House, Inc.
A unique approach to the history of science using  do-it-yourself experiments along with brief historical profiles to demonstrate how the ancient alchemists stumbled upon the science of chemistry.

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!

Baker & Taylor
Demonstrations and brief profiles explain how ancient alchemists stumbled on the science of chemistry, revealing the unrealized theoretical understandings of European alchemists who discovered the properties and reactions of elements.

Book News
Alchemy has been in disrepute for a long time now, but in this wonderfully informative book, three chemists attempt--not to rehabilitate it, of course--but at least to demonstrate that it was more than simple irrational and mystical ravings of deluded pseudo-magicians. Drawing on recent research that had deciphered much of alchemical code, they show that alchemy had a much stronger theoretical foundation than previously believed, and that, despite its largely irrational foundational beliefs, alchemists managed, through more error than trial, to discover much of the fundamental knowledge that underlies modern chemistry. The alchemists, largely through sheer persistence rather than a coherent program, discovered acids and alkali, learned about alcohols and salts, and described many fascinating reactions that we can reproduce today using common materials. Each chapter looks at a particular episode in the history of alchemy, followed by a demonstration of the principles uncovered by it, together with simple instructions on how to perform that particular experiment at home. Annotation ©2014 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

A history of science combines 20 do-it-yourself experiments and brief profiles to demonstrate how ancient alchemists stumbled on the science of chemistry, revealing the unrealized theoretical understandings of Western European alchemists who discovered the properties and reactions of elements.

Publisher: Amherst, New York : Prometheus Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781616149154
Characteristics: 364 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Goldwhite, Harold
Fetterolf, Monty L.


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