Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lawrence Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy

I got this book as a Christmas gift and have not been disappointed. It's really the first reliable, scholarly introduction to alchemy that is both an easy read and a fascinating guide to the subject. It is well illustrated with useful diagrams that help explain the chemistry, which Principe shows was the real focus of the work. I especially appreciated the chapter on Zosimos, which sets the record straight about the nature of his dream as well as providing an interesting framework for thinking about his gnostic influences. There's lots of great stuff on medieval and islamic alchemical theory explained more clearly than I have seen in any book on alchemy, and Principe even tackles some of the more difficult renaissance cases like Maier and Khunrath, persuasively putting those strange texts into their religious and alchemical contexts. I only wish that it had been longer. A more lengthy review to come.

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