Recently I did magick-and-alchemy shows in two wonderful local independent bookstores, Red Balloon and Wild Rumpus.
Real alchemy, in case you wondered, was just stirring things together and watching what happened. It was making what we would now call “chemical reactions.” But 400 years ago, before science as we know it was invented, what happened often looked like…magick.
Explosions! Showers of sparks! Clouds of toxic fumes! And other Harry Pottereque special effects! Those particular effects were not, alas, something I could do in a bookstore. But alchemy also had its moments of quieter magick.
The audience saw glasses of purple cabbage water ***transformed!!*** into various other colors by the addition of myseriously lableled alchemical ingredients.
Other bits of quiet magic included the crystals that grow in a glass jar when you mix ordinary washing soda (available in grocery stores) with warm water.
I talked, too, about what happens when you set a prism in a sunny windowsill. How colors appear here and there, and move across the room as the sun moves. (Isaac Newton called them “the ghosts of light.”)
It was great to sign this boy’s copy of Isaac the Alchemist, Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d and realize that he did actually want to read a book of nonfiction. And not for school…
I was also thrilled when an almost-six-year-old girl (not old enough to read Isaac the Alchemist, but old enough to look at the pictures) really wanted the prism she won as a prize. She took home a jar of washing soda, too.
[My thanks to the wonderful Don Losure and Laurie Stern for the photos!]
ISAAC THE ALCHEMIST: SECRETS OF ISAAC NEWTON, REVEAL’D, the story of the “distinctive, prickly, and devouringly curious” Isaac Newton will be coming on SATURDAY, FEB 25 at 1:00 PM to the quirky and wonderful WILD RUMPUS BOOKS in Minneapolis. Magick and Alchemy Show! Reading! Prizes! And magical musicall guest stars the Ephemeral Wizards String Band, transmuted by a secret alchemical process into an entirely different set of musicians than have previously appeared at other events!
I love Wild Rumpus, with its tiny kid-sized door, its penchant for cats, roving chickens, and assorted other creatures. It’s a totally magick atmosphere! So happy to be giving a reading there!
Counting down the days until the LAUNCH of my latest book, ISAAC THE ALCHEMIST: SECRETS OF ISAAC NEWTON, REVEALED.
SATURDAY FEB 18, 2:00 PM at the fabulous
RED BALLOON BOOKSHOP!
So pleased to announce that I’ll be doing a MAGICK AND ALCHEMY show at Red Balloon Bookshop Saturday, Feb 18 at 2:00 PM!! Launch party for Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d. Reading! Music! Merriment! Prizes! Hope to see you there!
(Newton Drawings, continued…)
This is a drawing Newton made of an experiment where he pressed his own eyeball with a “bodkin”–a kind of blunt needle–to see what colors appeared in his field of vision.
Don’t ask me for details, but somehow, he made himself do it because he so wanted to understand where colors came from and how they worked.
Once I got over the full strangeness and wonder of this drawing, the thing I also really like about it is the little hand. I like how Newton draws hands. Below are closeups of another page from one of his notebooks.
I don’t know of any surviving drawings where the strange, reclusive Newton showed more of his fellow humans than just a disembodied hand. But how I would love to see some!
Link to eyeball drawing at Cambridge University Digital Library is here.
Link to the Newton notebook page with the two additional hand drawings is here.
Thanks as always to the Cambridge Digital Library for allowing social media sharing of its cool images!
This way HOME! (In case you wish to see the home page of this website, which WordPress, to my sorrow, does not allow me to make easy for visitors to get back to.)
(Newton drawings, continued…)
I first saw these in a concise and wonderful biography of Isaac Newton by James Gleick. I admit I’m not sure exactly what any of the gizmos actually do, but I still find them intriguing.
And while we are on the subject of gizmos, contraptions, etc…
As a boy, Newton made a four-wheeled go-cart equipped with a rope, a cylinder, and a crank. In a toy store, I saw the modern go-cart below and thought right away of Newton’s cart.
It’s said of Newton’s cart that when he sat in it and turned the crank, the cart would carry him all around the house.
The video below gives you the idea of how the modern one works. Note she is riding on a flat surface, not downhill. It also works inside houses.
Perhaps both carts work on the same principle?
(Newton drawings image courtesy of Cambridge Digital Library . Find Newton’s notebook page at this link.)
***This way home. (A link to my Homepage, in case you took other routes to get here.)
I first saw these wonderful snowflake drawings by Isaac Newton, um, someplace on the internet. When I wanted to use them in my book Isaac the Alchemist, Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d, I emailed all sorts of experts asking if they knew where in Newton’s many, notebooks the snowflakes might be found. No luck. So I sent a tweet to the Cambridge Digital Library (@CamDigLib), and within minutes got this link back.
Newton did all sorts of cool drawings. It would be great if there were a book of them so people could just page through and find them easily. On, sigh, actual paper. But in the meantime, I will post a few more of my favorites.
(MANY thanks to the Cambridge University Digital Library for letting the public share these great images online.)
“The house had a grand name, Woolsthorpe Manor, but none of the castle-like splendor the word manor calls to mind. Mice scurried down the halls and wooden staircases and across the cold stone floors.”
Isaac the Alchemist, Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d, p. 3
Here (from Publishers Weekly) is the latest review!
In this charming biography of Isaac Newton (1642–1727), Losure (Wild Boy) posits that “this last sorcerer—this greatest of all alchemists—was the same man who banished magic from the scientific world.” Portrayed as an uncommonly inquisitive, albeit reclusive, thinker with a secret addiction to alchemy (not an unusual preoccupation in a period when the borders between science and magic were uncertain), Newton may have written as many as a million words regarding alchemy, papers he kept while destroying many related to his revolutionary work in other fields: mathematics, optics, and what is now called physics. Interspersing engrossing chapters about alchemy (but largely ignoring the last third of Newton’s life), Losure uses a light touch to trace his childhood endeavors, his rise from student to professor at Cambridge’s Trinity College, his prickly relationship with other scientists in the Royal Society (Newton became a member in 1672), and the publication of his masterpiece, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, in 1687. Period images and afterwords with curiosity-spiking headings such as “Stinks, Bangs & More Chymical Secrets” bring additional depth and interest to this study of Newton’s surprising pursuits. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Release date: 02/14/2017
Link to it here.
Woolsthorpe Manor photo by Don Losure.
Just learned (from Twitter, no less) that Isaac the Alchemist is getting a third starred review! My thanks to The Horn Book! Add Kirkus and School Library Journal and that makes three (3) stars for Isaac. (Booklist really really liked it, too.)
Thrilled to see that Isaac has won a starred review from Kirkus! A “splendid story…narrative nonfiction at its best and most compelling.”