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Review of Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d

losure_isaac the alchemiststar2 Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d
by Mary Losure
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    164 pp.
2/17    978-0-7636-7063-4    $19.99    g

In 1936, economist John Maynard Keyes bought a set of Isaac Newton’s manuscripts at auction only to discover that many of the pages had nothing to do with science, but rather alchemy. Newton, Keyes reasoned, “was not the first of the age of reason…He was the last of the magicians.” Indeed, Newton grew up in a world where it was very difficult to tell where one field of study ended and another began, a world where alchemy and “chymistry” (as it was then spelled) seemed to be related disciplines. Losure faithfully hews to this worldview, communicating the sense of awe and wonder about the natural world that Newton must have felt. This immersive experience is enhanced by historical documents that are reproduced throughout the text, along with several appendices of additional information. Perhaps even more impressive than her re-creation of Newton’s world, however, is her re-creation of the man himself — or rather, the boy who became the man — without embellishing the historical record with speculation and conjecture. Thus, the reader is left with the bare facts of Newton’s life — his difficult and troubled childhood, his prodigious talent at Cambridge, his prickly and reclusive nature, and his famous Laws of Motion — but more importantly, Losure has communicated his very essence, recalling Albert Einstein’s assertion that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Source notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended.

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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