The Secrets of Alchemy

In The Secrets of Alchemy, Lawrence M. Principe, one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject, brings alchemy out of the shadows and restores it to its important place in human history and culture. By surveying what alchemy was and how it began, developed, and overlapped with a range of ideas and pursuits, Principe illuminates the practice. He vividly depicts the place of alchemy during its heyday in early modern Europe, and then explores how alchemy has fit into wider views of the cosmos and humanity, touching on its enduring place in literature, fine art, theater, and religion as well as its recent acceptance as a serious subject of study for historians of science. 

In addition, he introduces the reader to some of the most fascinating alchemists, such as Zosimos and Basil Valentine, whose lives dot alchemy’s long reign from the third century to the present day. Through his exploration of alchemists and their times, Principe pieces together closely guarded clues from obscure and fragmented texts to reveal alchemy’s secrets, and—most exciting for budding alchemists—uses them to recreate many of the most famous recipes in his lab, including those for the “glass of antimony” and “philosophers’ tree.” This unique approach brings the reader closer to the actual work of alchemy than with any other book.

Atalanta fugiens, one of the foremost textbooks on alchemy. CHF Collections.

About the Author

Lawrence Principe is the Drew Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of History of Science and Technology and the Department of Chemistry. He earned undergraduate degrees at the University of Delaware (B.A., liberal studies, 1983; B.S., chemistry, 1983) and did his graduate work at Indiana University (Ph.D., organic chemistry, 1988) and at Johns Hopkins (Ph.D., history of science, 1996). He is the first recipient of the Francis Bacon Medal for significant contributions to the history of science. Principe’s studies concern the early history of chemistry, particularly the works of Robert Boyle, and their connection to the earlier study of alchemy. Other significant books by him include The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest (Princeton University Press, 1998) and Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry (University of Chicago Press, 2002).