Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future (Paperback)
by Jenny Uglow
|Format:||Paperback 608 pages|
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In the 1760s a group of amateur experimenters met and made friends in the Midlands. Most came from humble families, all lived far from the centre of things, but they were young and their optimism was boundless: together they would change the world. Among them were the ambitious toy-maker Matthew Boulton and his partner James Watt, of steam-engine fame; the potter Josiah Wedgewood; the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet, inventor and theorist of evolution (a forerunner of his grandson Charles). Later came Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen and fighting radical. With a small band of allies they formed the Lunar Society of Birmingham (so called because it met at each full moon) and kick-started the Industrial Revolution. Blending science, art and commerce, the "Lunar Men" built canals, launched balloons, named plants, gases and minerals, changed the face of England and the china in its drawing rooms and plotted to revolutionize its soul. This exhilarating account uncovers the friendships, political passions, love affairs, and love of knowledge (and power) that drove these extraordinary men. It echoes to the thud of pistons and the wheeze and snort of engines, and brings to life the tradesmen, artisans and tycoons who shaped and fired the modern age.
Faber and Faber
Publisher and industry reviews
UK Kirkus review
Biographer Jenny Uglow has already written extensively and brilliantly on 18th and 19th literature and culture, notably in biographies of Hogarth and Mrs Gaskell, and this new work can only add to her reputation for meticulous scholarship lightly worn. The 18th century was one of clubs, and the like-minded men of the title belonged to the Lunar Society of Birmingham, which met on the nearest Monday to the full moon, so that their various ways home would be well-lit. But this was no ordinary gathering, and Uglow describes how these gifted individuals nudged their whole society and culture towards today's world. Most of the Lunar men were provincial men, gifted amateurs and Nonconformists, the latter fact being a strength which freed them from the tyranny of tradition and established institutions; they were also united by a love of science and of the new. With astonishing energy, they built factories and canals, discovered new minerals, gases and medicines, created beautiful porcelain, added to the knowledge of botany, coined new words and wrote poetry. Considering themselves to be 'natural philosophers', they acknowledged no division between the sciences and humanities and were interested in politics, religion and education. They were usually dedicated family men and equally dedicated friends. The core of the Society was the quintet consisting of Erasmus Darwin, doctor, inventor and poet, manufacturer Matthew Boulton and his business partner James Watt, a pioneer of steam power, potter Josiah Wedgwood and Joseph Priestley, the chemist responsible for the soda-water taken on Captain Cook's voyages, and a preacher and leader of Radical Dissent. But there were others equally talented who joined them in the exchange and cross-fertilization of ideas and information and in their love of invention and experiment. It is Uglow's great achievement to bind individual lives and the narrative together in a fascinating and memorable book. (Kirkus UK)
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