- Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure
ISBN 978-0-7636-7063-4 $19.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 5-8
Optics, laws of motion, calculus. It’s those serious aspects of science and math that tend to dominate Isaac Newton biographies, with his dabbles into alchemy sidelined among the notes or gently guffawed at as an eccentricity of an admittedly odd man. Losure, however, takes a different tack, first impressing on her readers that Newton came of age in an era in which “chymistry” was an umbrella under which mathematics, medicine, and alchemy rubbed shoulders, when unexplained transmutations observed in nature were no more or less amazing than the prospect of transmuting base matter into gold and elixirs into the promise of endless life. Viewed through this lens, Newton’s tireless investigations into all corners of the natural world would, as a matter of course, involve experiments in alchemy, and as he searched for a chemical key to what makes creation tick, he found instead that mathematical “fluxions” (i.e., calculus) were critical to explaining movement and relationships. Losure’s treatment of those investigations is no arcane intellectual exercise but a biography that, in a manner similar to Kathleen Krull’s lively Isaac Newton (BCCB 5/06), delights in her subject’s curmudgeonly quirks and intellectual prowess. Period illustrations are included, and Losure’s “Most Amazing Addendum” offers excerpts from period notebooks and writings that readers won’t want to miss, as well as the expected citations, sources, and index.