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Twenty-First-Century Alchemists (2016) (newyorker.com)
20 points by benbreen on Sept 21, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 8 comments

For anyone interested in the history of alchemy, I recommend "The Secrets of Alchemy" by Lawrence M. Principe. Great insight into the actual history of the subject without getting caught up in hidden-mystery bs.


Definitely seems like an interesting read. Thanks for the recommendation!

I hope they're recording what they find "swine paunch", etc. actually consists of in a machinable format along with what they've tried in place of those. Translating old formulas and procedures written in extinct jargon is a _huge_ challenge.

Might be a lame question. Have common people been aware of Alchemist (as a concept) before Paulo Coelho's best seller in the same name? For me that was the first time I heard this word.

Depends on what sort of literature or history floats your boat. I don't recall if I'd had exposure to the term in formal schooling, but certainly ran across it in such as Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baroque_Cycle), Fullmetal Alchemist (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0421357/), and a variety of historical fiction (most of which it's been well over 15y since I've read, and as such I've long forgotten what it was).

I think a very well read 4th grade history or science teacher discussing Newton was my introduction.

Isn't alchemy a important part of learning about the history of science, as taught in elementary/secondary schools? It is one of the precursors of chemistry after all. I also recall learning it in history in the context of gunpowder, which was developed by Chinese alchemists trying to transmute metals and prolong life.

I teach HS chemistry. We don’t really cover alchemy. Most of the history we do covers the development of atomic theory starting with Dalton, a brief mention of the Greeks and Democritus, and the history of the periodic table.

Even that history is pretty brief. Unfortunately the state standards are a mile wide and an inch deep so we really have to move quick. Much quicker than I would like.

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