Isaac The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d – Mary Losure


       Isaac The Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d – Mary Losure, Candlewick Press, 9780763670634, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2

Genre:  Non-fiction

What did you like about the book? This was incredibly disappointing.  It is a poorly melded attempt at narrative non-fiction recounting the earlier days of the famous Sir Isaac Newton: before the famed “father of physics”, there was the boy living above the apothecary’s house.  An intriguing premise with an execution that just falls through. The chapters are all very short and are supposed to contain information/narrative meanderings through particular parts of Isaac’s youth: his life, interests, experiments, alchemy.  There are numerous pictures but many/most are unexplained in any helpful way and while the focus on Newton’s own journals and primary source material is encouraging, it falls short at being either well-researched enough to be useful to anyone looking for a good biography and is too choppily presented to provide a good narrative flow for an interesting pleasure-read. There IS an index and a list of references for further works to examine.  The best reading is the introductory material and a few of the appendices.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Overall the tone is strange and doesn’t fit well as either a strictly research-oriented book or an interesting non-fictional account of his life. There’s also a very odd focus/obsession with “sins” throughout which a note in the appendix indicates is based upon a small list of such “sins” in a notebook of Isaac’s.  But their constant inclusion made this less of a story of Isaac  learning and expanding upon alchemy/magic/science and more one of Puritan thoughts on purity mixed with unexplained/non-captioned photos and wood carvings and large asides that break the flow of chapters without being set aside in a way that make it clear they even ARE “asides” until you’ve finished them and are left wondering why, in the chapter on “stars” did you just read 2 pages about how Isaac could only see wood carvings of animals by looking at books in Grantham’s library.

To whom would you recommend this book?  This is hard to recommend to anyone.  It’s too dry for a good narrative read and too lacking in details for a good research read so it may be of interest to someone who really wants info on Isaac’s younger self; a reader at the Middle school level or older with a very short attention span and a need for short chapters; but mostly for the list of references at the back.

Who should buy this book?  If you get it free; Middle schools or public libraries but unless you have a lot of young historical buffs clamoring for books on young Newton, I’d pass.

Where would you shelve it? Middle Grade Non-Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: April Duclos, Hudson Public Library, Hudson MA

Date of review: 3/28/17

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