Isaac the Alchemist by Mary Losure

Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure. February 1, 2017. Candlewick Press, 176 p. ISBN: 9780763670634.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.4; Lexile: 1010.

A surprising true story of Isaac Newton’s boyhood suggests an intellectual development owing as much to magic as science.

Before Isaac Newton became the father of physics, an accomplished mathematician, or a leader of the scientific revolution, he was a boy living in an apothecary’s house, observing and experimenting, recording his observations of the world in a tiny notebook. As a young genius living in a time before science as we know it existed, Isaac studied the few books he could get his hands on, built handmade machines, and experimented with alchemy–a process of chemical reactions that seemed, at the time, to be magical. Mary Losure’s riveting narrative nonfiction account of Isaac’s early life traces his development as a thinker from his childhood, in friendly prose that will capture the attention of today’s budding scientists–as if by magic. Back matter includes an afterword, an author’s note, source notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None


Book Trailer


Booklist (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 6-9. Isaac Newton is known as one of the most brilliant scientific minds in human history, so what was he doing studying alchemy? Losure (The Fairy Ring, 2012) paints a vivid picture of the lonely, curious young Isaac, who grew up with an insatiable appetite for reading (particularly about alchemy), which ultimately fueled his scholarly pursuits. While teaching mathematics and formulating his famous theories, for instance, he simultaneously pored over crucibles of mercury, hoping to transmute lead into gold. Of course, we know now that alchemy is nonsense, but in Isaac’s seventeenth-century existence, it was a serious scientific study and thought to be the key to unlocking the universe’s secrets. In Losure’s engaging narrative, she compellingly ties Isaac’s desire to solve the world’s mysteries through alchemy to his groundbreaking theories, which actually did lead to solving many of those mysteries. Snippets of Isaac’s notebooks and period illustrations further enliven Losure’s already fascinating, energetic writing. More than just a picture of Isaac Newton’s life, this illuminates the historical context for his work and the sea change his discoveries ushered in.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2017)
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 reasonâç¦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. jonathan hunt

About the Author

Mary Losure, author of The Fairy Ring and Wild Boy, writes both non-fiction and fantasy for children. Before she was a children’s book author, she was an award-winning reporter for Minnesota Public Radio. A long-time contributor to National Public Radio, she also reported from Mexico and South America for the independent production company Round Earth Media. She lives in Minnesota.

Her website is

Teacher Resources

Isaac the Alchemist Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

Isaac the Alchemist on Amazon

Isaac the Alchemist on Goodreads

Isaac the Alchemist on JLG

Isaac the Alchemist Publisher Page


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