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Beyond the Book

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 halftones, 1 maps, notes, index

Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia

ISBN  978-1-4696-0087-1
Published: February 2013

Prospero's America

John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676

By Walter W. Woodward

Awards & Distinctions

2011 Homer D. Babbidge Jr. Award, Association for the Study of Connecticut History

2010 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

In Prospero's America, Walter W. Woodward examines the transfer of alchemical culture to America by John Winthrop, Jr., one of English colonization's early giants. Winthrop participated in a pan-European network of natural philosophers who believed alchemy could improve the human condition and hasten Christ's Second Coming. Woodward demonstrates the influence of Winthrop and his philosophy on New England's cultural formation: its settlement, economy, religious toleration, Indian relations, medical practice, witchcraft prosecution, and imperial diplomacy. Prospero's America reconceptualizes the significance of early modern science in shaping New England hand in hand with Puritanism and politics.

About the Author

Walter W. Woodward is Connecticut state historian and associate professor of history at the University of Connecticut.


"In his fine biography . . . Woodward's portrait of the younger Winthrop illuminates a particularly rich seventeenth-century life; one that clearly strides in the direction of the Enlightenment, if it does not have one foot there already."
--Times Literary Supplement

"[A] wide ranging study. . . . An excellent, adventurous introduction to the place of alchemy in early New England culture and by far the best scholarly integration of Winthrop's alchemical interests with his other pursuits."
--American Historical Review

"A milestone in the study of John Winthrop Jr. . . . A first-rate study that radically changes our understanding of the younger Winthrop."
--Journal of American History

"The story is good, revealing how the scientific method emerged from empirical alchemy and giving a brilliant new interpretation of Winthrop's supposed change in attitude toward colonial potentials in his later years."
--Early American Life

"Woodward has written two books in one--a new biography of John Winthrop Jr. and a groundbreaking examination of the importance of alchemy in the first decades of New England's settlement. . . . An important contribution."
--New England Quarterly

"In a strikingly alchemical mixture, this book combines politics, economics, science, industry, warfare, and religion, and manages to create that most treasured of prizes--a fascinating portrait of a man who, while not unknown, is not as well known as perhaps is appropriate. . . . Readers will find many of their assumptions about Puritan New England challenged and ultimately revised. . . . Highly recommended."

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