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Alchemy and Alchemists (Pocket essentials: Ideas) [Hardcover]

Sean Martin
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Essentials; 2nd Revised edition edition (24 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904048625
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904048626
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 18.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 646,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sean Martin is the author of the bestselling The Knights Templar: The History and Myths of the Legendary Military Order (2nd edition, 2009), and has appeared in a number of Templar-related TV programmes, including The Trial of the Knights Templar (Channel 5) and The Templars' Lost Treasure (National Geographic).

His other books include The Gnostics: The First Christian Heretics (2nd edition, 2010), The Cathars: The Most Successful Heresy of the Middle Ages (2005) and Andrei Tarkovsky (new edition, 2011), a study of the great Russian director. His latest book is New Waves in Cinema (2013).

As a filmmaker, he co-directed the documentary Lanterna Magicka: Bill Douglas and the Secret History of Cinema (2009, released on DVD and Blu-Ray by the BFI), the short film A Boat Retold, featuring writers Robert Macfarlane and Ian Stephen (2013), and the feature film Folie à Deux (2012).

He is also a poet, and won the 2011 Wigtown Poetry Prize. He lives in Edinburgh.

Product Description


Alchemy has traditionally been viewed as 'the history of an error', an example of mediaeval gullibility and greed, in which alchemists tried to turn lead into gold, create fabulous wealth and find the elixir of life. But alchemy has also been described as 'the mightiest secret that a man can possess', and it obsessed the likes of Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and many of the founders of modern science. This book explores the history of the so-called Royal Art, from its mysterious beginnings in Egypt and China, through the Hellenistic world and the early years of Islam and into mediaeval Europe. Some of the greatest minds of the Middle Ages, figures such as Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas were drawn to alchemy, and legendary alchemists such as Nicholas Flamel were thought to have actually succeeded in finding The Philosopher's Stone. During the Renaissance, Paracelsus and his followers helped revolutionise medicine, and during the seventeenth century, alchemy played a major role in paving the way for modern science.

During the twentieth century, it became a focus of interest for the psychologist Carl Jung and his followers, who believed that the alchemists had discovered the unconscious. In this fully revised edition, Sean Martin has expanded the sections on Chinese and Indian alchemy and has added new material on the relationship between alchemy and early modern science, while also making a fresh assessment of this most enduringly mysterious and fascinating of subjects, to which all others have been described as 'child's play'.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good survey of the art of alchemy 7 Mar 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent little book, though not without a few blemishes (see later). It is modestly described as part of a series of "Pocket Essentials", but this doesn't really do credit to the comprehensive scope of the book. It is a valuable addition to the library not only of beginners, but also of those who are already familiar with the subject and would like to know more.

After an historical introduction, Mr Martin gets down to explaining the basic ideas and themes of alchemy, a difficult task, given the complexity of the subject and the great diversity (not to say irreconcilability), of some of the beliefs among alchemists themselves. He manages this in a plain and straightforward way, with great clarity and without oversimplification. A long chapter covers the progress of alchemy in the west, from its earliest beginnings, through Hellenistic, Arab and Renaissance worlds, to Jungian interpretation and modern practices. This is followed by a chapter on eastern alchemy, especially Indian and Chinese, a valuable addition, since it is an area often neglected. The chapter entitled "The Golden Chain" comprises brief profiles of a substantial list of alchemists, over 130 of them, thus organising a wealth of information into an assimilable form. A comprehensive reading list makes it possible to follow up in more detail any of the topics covered.

The author's great strength is that he knows what he is talking about, and is not trying to impress people with any phoney mysticism. When he discusses the relationship of alchemy to Gnosticism or Taoism, you know he is familiar with both. He has the perspective that comes from a study of history or psychology or philosophy, but possibly not of any particular scientific knowledge.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent 29 July 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Thsi book is excellent value for money. Excellent for those new to the subject with an excellent list of recommended reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Alchemy 18 Mar 2010
An introduction to Alchemy - it is reasonably clear and has a good outline of significant alchemists, many of whom are surprising. I am not sure that it took me any further than that though.
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