From Publishers Weekly
The traditional grand narrative of the scientific revolution styles it as a decisive rejection of magic and mysticism in favor of rationality and empiricism. This engaging study of early modern science insists there was no such sharp break. Historian Moran traces the gradual evolution of alchemy to chemistry through a wide array of texts from the 15th through 18th centuries, including classical alchemical treatises, handbooks of practical alchemy, early chemistry textbooks and the writings of Newton and Boyle, both of whom considered alchemy a perfectly legitimate scientific discipline. He finds in alchemical thought intriguing precursors of modern ideas about the particulate nature of matter, the biochemical paradigm of life and disease, and Newtonian gravity. Moreover, he considers alchemy, which boasted a vast amount of lore on everything from metallurgy to medicine and was practiced not just by adepts but by doctors, artisans and housewives, to have been an important catalyst in the development of the scientific mindset; while alchemical theories may have been wrong, alchemical practice schooled society at large in everyday habits of observation and experimentation. Conveying a wealth of historical detail in an accessible, jargon-free style, Moran provides a fascinating corrective to simplistic notions of the origins of modern science. Photos.
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Reacting to the perception that the break, early on in the scientific revolution, between alchemy and chemistry was clean and abrupt, Moran literately and engagingly recaps what was actually a slow process. Far from being the superstitious amalgam it is now considered, alchemy was genuine science before and during the scientific revolution. The distinctive alchemical procedure--distillation--became the fundamental method of analytical chemistry, and the alchemical goal of transmuting "base metals" into gold and silver led to the understanding of compounds and elements. What alchemy very gradually but finally lost in giving way to chemistry was its spiritual or religious aspect, the linkages it discerned between purely physical and psychological properties. Drawing saliently from the most influential alchemical and scientific texts of the medieval to modern epoch (especially the turbulent and eventful seventeenth century), Moran fashions a model short history of science volume. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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