The Way of the Crucible
by Robert Allen Bartlett
© 2009 Ibis Books (An Imprint of Red Wheel Weiser)
Paperback $22.95 (U.S.)
How many practicing alchemists do you know? What are alchemists really trying to do? Can you transmute lead into gold? These are all valid questions.
Among my various interests alchemy ranks fairly low. I have no practical experience in it and, with few exceptions, my reading has mostly been confined to novels which feature alchemists and alchemy to some degree. That put me at a disadvantage starting off. On the other hand, even the little bit of non-fiction reading I have done on the subject gave me a certain feeling that I would be able to make sense of what I was reading.
The author produced an earlier work (Real Alchemy) which I am sure would be a good place to start one’s research, if one is so inclined. This book builds on the foundation laid by the previous work. Nonetheless, he provides something of a basis for understanding in the introduction to this current work. Unlike many of the “authorities” in the field (i.e., writers who have been deceased for more than a century), he makes clear many of the intricacies which have often confused the casual reader, and which have led many to conclude that alchemy has no basis in reality.
If you think that chemistry is a weak field for you, that is the least of your worries. You will find yourself being exposed to a whole lot of ayurvedic medicine, as well as homeopathetic preparations and assorted other fields. If you are not comfortable keeping a notebook by your side, you will be by the time you get deeper into this book. Nonetheless, the material is well organized and presented so that you should have no difficulty keeping up.
In addition to the numerous charts and diagrams scattered throughout this work, the author has done the casual researcher a major favor by providing extensive quotes from works which are often difficult to locate and/or gain access to (although it must be admitted that this is less of problem as the number of “ancient” texts begin to work their way onto the internet).
This is not a book for the dilettante, it is intended for the serious student. If you do not have the time to dedicate to reading and working your way through this material, you would be well advised to put it back on the shelf until you have the time. Attempting to read it while dealing with distractions will not serve you well.
In truth, I did not have the time to be as thorough in my reading of this book as I would have liked, As a result this review is less comprehensive than usual. Therefore I am dong something which I have only done a few times before. I am issuing a request. If you have read this book (or are in the process of reading it), let me know your opinions. I will be the first to admit that sometimes I am in over my depth, and this is one of those instances.
I hope to return to this book later this year, after I clear a bunch of stuff on my plate, and would like to hear from others before I dive back in.