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Lunar Men [Paperback]

Jenny Uglow
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 30 2003
Led by the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham were a group of eighteenth-century amateur experimenters who met monthly on the Monday night nearest to the full moon. Echoing to the thud of pistons and the wheeze of snorting engines, Jenny Uglow's vivid and swarming group portrait brings to life the inventors, artisans and tycoons who shaped and fired the modern world. Here's just a few of the many great reviews for The Lunar Men: 'An exhilarating book, filled with wonders ...Jenny Uglow is the most perfect historian imaginable.' Peter Ackroyd, The Times 'An irresistible book, rich as a Christmas pudding in its detail. Uglow is the perfect guide, lucid, intelligent, sympathetic and wise. A wonderful subject has found its perfect historian.' Spectator 'A constant delight ...Beautifully illustrated with many plates and diagrams, The Lunar Men lays bare the forces that prepared the way for the modern world.' John Carey, Sunday Times 'I loved them, every one, from the vagaries of Dr Erasmus Darwin, who listed boredom and credulity along with scabies as human afflictions, to Josiah Wedgwood's dismissal of a chic sculptor's rococo models as 'the head of a drowned puppy'. Uglow, uniquely, can do things, thoughts and well-rounded people in the round. Nobody else writes so perceptively about the power of friendship. Great stuff.' Guardian

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From Amazon

In the late 1700s, five gifted inventors and amateur scholars in Birmingham, England, came together for what one of them, Erasmus Darwin, called "a little philosophical laughing." They also helped kick-start the industrial revolution, as Jenny Uglow relates in the lively The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World. Their "Lunar Society" included Joseph Priestley, the chemist who isolated oxygen; James Watt, the Scottish inventor of the steam engine; and Josiah Wedgwood, whose manufacture of pottery created the industrial model for the next century. Joined by other "toymakers" and scholarly tinkerers, they concocted schemes for building great canals and harnessing the power of electricity, coined words such as "hydrogen" and "iridescent," shared theories and bank accounts, fended off embezzlers and industrial spies, and forged a fine "democracy of knowledge." And they had a fine time doing so, proving that scholars need not be dullards or eccentrics asocial.

Uglow's spirited look at this group of remarkable "lunaticks" captures a critical, short-lived moment of early modern history. Readers who share their conviction that knowledge brings power will find this book a rewarding adventure. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This hefty volume combines prodigious research with an obvious fondness for the subject matter. Uglow, an editor at U.K.'s Chatto & Windus publishing house, garnered praise for her incisive book on the life and images of William Hogarth as well as for her biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot. Here, Uglow details the wild inventions of the 18th century, with the turbulent changes in the Georgian world as backdrop, and so delivers a complete, though at times ponderously detailed, portrait of the men who formed the Lunar Society of Birmingham. The society was a kind of study group for the nascent Industrial Revolution, which would transform England in two generations. Among the lunar men were toy maker Matthew Boulton, James Watt of the steam engine, potter Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley, who discovered oxygen, and physician and evolutionary theorist Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's grandfather. As Uglow writes, its members met on the full moon (to facilitate travel at night), "warmed by wine and friendship, their heads full of air pumps and elements and electrical machines, their ears ringing with talk, the whirring of wheels and the hiss of gas." Each was accomplished in his profession, and yet each applied boundless reserves of energy and inventiveness to outside interests, from the practical, such as canal-building, herbal medicines and steam-propelled water pumps, to the outright bizarre, such as Erasmus Darwin's fantastic mechanical talking mouth. Uglow's writing has great breadth of subject and character-along with the occasional bawdiness, too.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lunar Men April 22 2011
Fascinating - great. Perhaps most appealing was discovering not only how aggressively the Lunar Men pursued science at a time when so much was unknown, but all with such a wild sense of humour! Their letters leaked puns and jokes (no reason why not, humour has been around for a long long time)and written as if they were living, well, right now. It's a revelation how amateurs really DID impact on major discoveries, in fact made a lot of them themselves. Joyous and fascinating. I've read it 4 times and still can't get enough of it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars first impressions ... March 8 2006
By izibi - Published on
What's so interesting is to learn
about the intellectual excitement in investigating
sciences that hadn't yet become the provinces of
academics and professionals. It makes me think of the
enthusiasm surrounding digital and computer
technologies--most of the interesting stuff in those
areas is done outside of academia. Innovations can
come from anywhere. It's also interesting to learn
that these 18th century folks from the midlands lived
so large and traveled so much abroad. I suppose they
weren't just ordinary people, but still it's
surprising. I suppose the innovations of the midland
potters and "toy" makers were the iPods and mobile
phones of their day.

There are also some writing gems in this book. I like
this about James Watt on page 101: "Standing on the
Green, which on weekdays was white with linen laid out
to bleach, the realization 'flashed on his mind at
once, and filled him with rapture'. But it was the
Sabbath, and no good Presbyterian could work. The
grass was bare of cloth and Watt had to wait."
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story of the start of modern science and technology Feb. 10 2014
By MR JOHN WATERHOUSE - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
"The Lunar Men" is a wonderful, engaging and detailed account of the men who met and started a trend of sharing and encouraging developments in science and technology.

I found it difficult to put the book down. It is hard to praise enough the author's ability to make the important and interesting story completely captivating. It cannot be recommended strongly enough.
5.0 out of 5 stars Associations that Bring Out Our Best Achievements Jan. 4 2014
By Terry O'Hara - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderfully detailed biographical account of the key British inventors and researchers of the eighteenth century. What I learned from it is how the associations that we can have with other creative minds can bring out the very best performance in our own efforts and enterprises. Jenny Uglow writes beautifully to make it an engaging read, all 500 pages. Her talent, I find, is that besides accurately describing the many events that occurred at particular times, she shows excellent insight into the emotional states that the actors are feeling during all of those periods. They were not so different from you and me.

I only wish that the book were available in electronic form, or that the print were larger, but it was well worth having to use my reading glasses. I am much looking forward to reading one of her other numerous books, one that she wrote about Charles Babbage, the inventor of the "analytical engine".
5.0 out of 5 stars Brillant Book April 4 2013
By Penelope Muir - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a fasinating true story about people who influenced the present, but people who many of us know little about.
4.0 out of 5 stars Science history - top read Jan. 14 2013
By OzPR - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For anyone interested in how science got going in the 18th century this is an inspiring story. Most of the characters are now well known if not exactly household names. Highly recommended.
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