The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story

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9780446524995: The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story

The arcanum--the recipe to make gold--was mankind's legendary quest since the Age of Reason. By the early 18th century, however, porcelain began to rival gold in value. Gleeson recounts the true story of Johann Friedrich Bottger, an alchemist, who, at the cost of his own life, discovered how to make porcelain and changed the course of history.

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Review:

Since the middle ages, Western Europeans have practiced alchemy, a primitive form of chemistry, in the great hope of transforming base metal into gold. In the early 18th century, a second great secret puzzled Western Europe's early scientists: how to make porcelain. Recently arrived from the Orient, porcelain quickly became a symbol of power, prestige, and good taste. In The Arcanum, Janet Gleeson presents an entertaining and informative account of the invention of European porcelain and the founding of the Meissen Porcelain Manufacture outside Dresden, Germany.

Her narrative focuses on three individuals: Alchemist Johann Frederick Böttger inadvertently discovered the arcanum, or secret formula, for making porcelain; Johan Gregor Herold, an ambitious artist, developed colors and patterns of unparalleled brilliance at the newly established Meissen Porcelain Manufacture; Johann Joachim Kaendler, a virtuoso sculptor, used the Meissen porcelain to invent a new art form. Interwoven with the story of Augustus the Strong, the greedy and ambitious king of the Kingdom of Saxony, who held Böttger captive until he discovered the formula, Gleeson's tale reads easily and maintains a high level of suspense and intrigue throughout. --Bertina Loeffler

About the Author:

Janet Gleeson was born in Sri Lanka, where her father was a tea planter. After taking a degree in History of Art and English she joined Sotheby's, and later worked for Bonhams Auctioneers. In 1991 she joined Reed Books, where she was responsible for devising and writing Miller's Antiques and Collectibles. She is the author of the Sunday Times non-fiction bestsellers The Arcanum and The Moneymaker. She is also the author of three novels, The Grenadillo Box, The Serpent in the Garden and The Thief-Taker.

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