What We Are Reading Today: Newton the Alchemist

Updated 21 November 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Newton the Alchemist

Author: William R. Newman

When Isaac Newton’s alchemical papers surfaced at a Sotheby’s auction in 1936, the quantity and seeming incoherence of the manuscripts were shocking. No longer the exemplar of Enlightenment rationality, the legendary physicist suddenly became “the last of the magicians.” Newton the Alchemist unlocks the secrets of Newton’s alchemical quest, providing a radically new understanding of the uncommon genius who probed nature at its deepest levels in pursuit of empirical knowledge.
In this evocative and superbly written book, William Newman blends in-depth analysis of newly available texts with laboratory replications of Newton’s actual experiments in alchemy. He does not justify Newton’s alchemical research as part of a religious search for God in the physical world, nor does he argue that Newton studied alchemy to learn about gravitational attraction. Newman traces the evolution of Newton’s alchemical ideas and practices over a span of more than three decades, showing how they proved fruitful in diverse scientific fields. A precise experimenter in the realm of “chymistry,” Newton put the riddles of alchemy to the test in his lab.
He also used ideas drawn from the alchemical texts to great effect in his optical experimentation. In his hands, alchemy was a tool for attaining the material benefits associated with the philosopher’s stone and an instrument for acquiring scientific knowledge of the most sophisticated kind.


What We Are Reading Today: Places and Names

Updated 19 July 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Places and Names

Author: Elliot Ackerman

Places and Names is another spectacular piece of writing from Elliot Ackerman.
He served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“At once an intensely personal book about the terrible lure of combat and a brilliant meditation on the larger meaning of the past two decades of strife for America, the region and the world, Places and Names bids fair to take its place among our greatest books about modern war,” said a review in goodreads.com.
In a review for The New York Times, critic Anne Barnard said Places and Names “is a classic meditation on war, how it compels and resists our efforts to order it with meaning.
“In simple, evocative sentences, with sparing but effective glances at poetry and art, Ackerman weaves memories of his deployments with his observations in and near Syria.”
Barnard said Ackerman pulls off a literary account of war that is accessible to those who wonder “what it’s like” while ringing true to those who — each in his or her own way — already know.