The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story

Janet Gleeson, Author Warner Books $22.5 (324p) ISBN 978-0-446-52499-5
Who would have thought that the story of porcelain would be such a rousing tale of wealth, intrigue and outrageous greed and gluttony? In an all-but-abandoned German mountaintop castle called Albrechtsburg in the town of Meissen, a brilliant 18th-century apothecary and alchemist by the name of Johann Frederick Bottger discovered the secret for making porcelain, which was the next best thing to gold at the time in Europe. Like many other alchemists of his day, Bottger had once untruthfully claimed to have found the secret formula for turning base metals into gold. But for King Augustus of Saxony, who--smelling fortune--promptly imprisoned the young scientist, the arcanum for porcelain, or china, would have to suffice. Gleeson's lively account of how Meissen became the West's first porcelain center follows a colorful cast of characters: the lascivious Augustus; two rival decorative artists, Johann Gregor Herod and Johann Joachim Kaendler, who applied their skills as diligently against each other as they did in creating precious porcelain objects; and goldsmith Christo Konrad Hunger, a ""hard-bitten profiteer"" who would ""happily stoop to intimidation, threats, and all manner of chicanery if it would help to fill his purse."" Greed--for money, fame, porcelain or power--seems to have motivated everyone associated with Meissen, including the author's apparent favorite, ""the unfortunate Bottger,"" whose youthful boasting and actual genius in the laboratory made it all possible. Though somewhat hastily wrapped up, this is delightful historical narrative. Major ad/ promo. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1999
Release date: 02/01/1999
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-446-67484-3
Open Ebook - 978-0-446-56479-3
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-57042-655-1
Hardcover - 978-0-446-16748-2
Paperback - 283 pages - 978-0-553-50692-1
Open Ebook - 150 pages - 978-1-935170-17-4
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