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November 15 2012

The true story of alchemy


The historian Herbert Butterfield once dismissed writers on alchemy as being "tinctured with the kind of lunacy they set out to describe". There is no danger of that slur being cast at Lawrence Principe for his new book, The Secrets of Alchemy.

A historian of science and practising chemist, Principe provides a dazzling account of how scholarly opinion on the relationship between alchemy and chemistry has transformed in the last four decades. In the process he brings chemical knowledge and historical detective work to a subject that has too readily been dismissed as fraudulent nonsense.

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