Sir Isaac, as everyone knows, is the pre-eminent scientist of the Scientific Revolution. That’s the rep since Voltaire and, I guess, Pope: God said ‘Let Newton Be, and all was Light’. So there was shock and astonishment when J.M. Keynes used a part of his not inconsiderable fortune to buy Newton’s papers, examine them and then say that our Isaac was a mystic, a numerologist and an Alchemist! Horrible dictu! No, that! Anything but that! But Keynes persisted. Many, many pages of Newton’s manuscripts were devoted to alchemical pursuits and that was all there was to it. He donated the papers to Cambridge, but the distinct impression was left that much, most in fact of Newton’s active life was devoted, not to real science, but to chasing fables. Because we all know that alchemy was a phonus bolonus operation with no scientific value. Don’t we? Until a few years ago, most researchers, and certainly most scientists, would have said: “absolutely”. But a recent and somewhat subtler understanding of alchemy and its literature has been growing in the past twenty years or SO. Nobody is claiming that the alchemists had it right. But the scholars who have been leading the new investigations suggest that not all of alchemy was baloney. There was, for example, a very strong and enduring body of practical knowledge on how to melt, smelt, isolate, mix, blend, reduce and otherwise manipulate metals. Alchemists devised nifty pieces of laboratory gear, and learned a lot about substances from the craftspeople who worked with them. Then, as now, an offer to buy a drink and listen to what the guy has to say without dismissing him as a cretin or boob could go a long way in helping to find out how things work. Alchemical writings are full of what seem like bizarre and fanciful stories, riddles, puns, maps, charts and other things which are miles away from the terse,direct, unornamented prose of today’s scientific paper. But they were written that way deliberately. Their purpose was NOT to inform, but to conceal, to misdirect (especially competitors or those unworthy). And some alchemical lit has no practical or scientific purpose at all. It’s to be understood as an allegory of transformation of human character into something better than the original ingedients. A new book by one of the leaders in the New Alchemy Studies movement is reviewed in SCIENCE.