Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made The Future Paperback – Sep 30 2003
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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.
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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."
The members of the Lunar Society were all prominent in British society. Amongst those who regularly attended the meetings were Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt and James Keir. Less regular attendees and correspondents of the Society included Sir Richard Arkwright, James Wyatt, John Smeaton, Thomas Jefferson and even Benjamin Franklin.
Over time, as prominent members grew older and died, the Society ceased to meet regularly and was officially closed in 1813.
As with all of Uglow's other biographies, The Lunar Men is a fabulous read; a vivid, detailed recreation of the time and place in which the members of the Lunar Society lived. The Lunar Society was made up of a lot of individuals and it would have been easy for their lives to jumble together in a single biography of the whole group but Uglow's great skill as a biographer and talent for hunting out an epic range of quotable materials means that the individual characters are thoroughly explored while the ties that bind them and The Lunar Men together are highlighted and detailed.
The achievements of the group of heavyweight intellectuals and businessmen who made up the Lunar Society of Birmingham are truly extraordinary, both on an individual basis and taken as a group, and Uglow fleshes out their lives and accomplishments with obvious enthusiasm.
An excellent read for those interested in British history and the scientific developments of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
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".
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.
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