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Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry Hardcover – 13 Dec 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (13 Dec. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226577112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226577111
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,578,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"Alchemy Tried in the Fire takes us on a fascinating voyage into the laboratory of the seventeenth-century alchemist George Starkey. Two of the most learned and original historians of pre-modern science at work today, Newman and Principe, use the rich evidence preserved in Starkey's notebooks to recreate his practices as a 'chymist' - and the intellectual and technical foundations on which these rested. Their work sheds a powerful light on Starkey's own private science - a rare achievement in any period, and especially before the twentieth century. This is the history of science at its best: erudite, wide-ranging, and convincingly iconoclastic." - Anthony Grafton


What actually took place in the private laboratory of a mid-17th-century alchemist? How did he direct his quest for the secrets of Nature? What instruments and theoretical principles did he employ? Using as their guide the previously misunderstood interactions between Robert Boyle, widely known as "the father of chemistry", and George Starkey, an alchemist and the most prominent American scientist before Benjamin Franklin, William Newman and Lawrence Principe reveal the hitherto hidden laboratory operations of a famous alchemist and argue that many of the principles and practices characteristic of modern chemistry derive from alchemy. By analyzing Starkey's extraordinary laboratory notebooks, the authors show how this American "chymist" translated the wildly figurative writings of traditional alchemy into quantitative, carefully reasoned laboratory practice - and then encoded his own work in allegorical, secretive treatises under the name of Eirebaeus Philalethes. The intriguing "mystic" Joan Baptista Van Helmont - a favourite of Starkey, Boyle and even of Lavoisier - emerges from this study as a surprisingly central figure in 17th-century "chymistry".

A common emphasis on quantification, material production and analysis/synthesis, the authors argue, illustrates a continuity of goals and practices from late mediaevel alchemy down to and beyond the Chemical Revolution. For anyone who wants to understand how alchemy was actually practiced during the Scientific Revolution and what it contributed to the development of modern chemistry, "Alchemy Tried in the Fire" should be a veritable philosopher's stone.

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