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Review: The Chemistry of Alchemy

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The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon's Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged
by Cathy Cobb , Monty Fetterolf and Harold Goldwhite
Prometheus Books, 2014 (($24.95))

Often dismissed as delusional dreamers, many ancient alchemists were good scientists, too. In their quest to turn base materials into gold, they managed to discover acids, alkalis, alcohols and salts. Chemists Cobb, Fetterolf and Goldwhite explain the real science behind many alchemists' practices and tell the stories of some of the more colorful practitioners. To understand what made these searchers tick, the authors re-created their experiments: “We wanted to know what made them think they could make gold, and what kept them at their kettles failure after failure.” Through their exhilarating experiments to make tin “cry” (a noise produced by tiny crystalline structures) or turn dull copper pennies into shiny brass, the authors glimpsed some of the answers to that question. The book includes instructions for at-home alchemy.

This article was originally published with the title "Recommended: The Chemistry of Alchemy."

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