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The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity…
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The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Jenny Uglow

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828920,671 (3.82)36
Led by Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham was formed from a group of amateur experimenters, tradesmen and artisans who met and made friends in the Midlands in the 1760s. 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 Wedgwood; the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet, inventor and theorist of evolution (a forerunner of his grandson Charles Darwin). Later came Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen and fighting radical. Led by Erasmus Darwin they joined a small band of allies, 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 revolutionise its soul. Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men is a vivid and swarming group portrait that brings to life the friendships, political passions, love affairs, and love of knowledge (and power) that drove these extraordinary men. It echoes 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. Winner of the PEN Hessel-Tiltman prize for history, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography, The Lunar Men captures the creation of the modern world with lucid intelligence, sympathy and wisdom. Jenny Uglow is also the prize-winning author of Nature's Engraver, Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories and most recently, In These Times.… (more)
Member:harry_badaud
Title:The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World
Authors:Jenny Uglow
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2003), Paperback, 608 pages
Collections:Your library, Wishlist, To read
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The Lunar Men: Five Friends whose Curiosity Changed the World by Jenny Uglow (2002)

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» See also 36 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
I loved this book, a fascinating account of the community of non-conformists whose energy and imagination fueled the industrial revolution. ( )
  Roarer | Dec 9, 2019 |
I really enjoyed this book about the men (including Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood) who formed the Lunar Society in Birmingham in the second half of the 18th century, devoted to learning of all aspects of natural philosophy and for conducting experiments, whilst alongside each of them was pursuing an industrious life and career in ways that made the world a little more modern. ( )
  mari_reads | Oct 18, 2015 |
Darwin's support of Beddoes and work on Zoonomia let him envisage the improvement of society through medicine, rather than politics. Most of his work was serious; some of it was fun, like his correspondence with Tom Wedgewood on making an air bed. ('He thinks feathers always stink', Darwin told Watt with amusement, 'and wishes to rest on clouds, like the Gods and Goddesses, which you see sprawling on ceilings.')

The second half of the eighteenth century was a ferment of invention and the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group whose members were mostly Midlands and Lowland Scots, was in the thick of it. Members included engineers, manufacturers, potters, chemists and doctors, but their scientific and entrepreneurial interests were varied and overlapping. They competed and collaborated, and urged each other onwards. They went into business together, their sons and daughters married each other, and their friendships were lifelong, excepting the relationship between William Withering and Erasmus Darwin, which was irreparably damaged by accusations of plagiarism.

A well-written and engrossing tale, of pumping engines, porcelain and patent infringements, canals, caves and chemistry, mining, manufacturing and minting, botanical taxonomy and balloons. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Dec 17, 2011 |
England in the late 18th Century was surely a crucible for the transformation of our world, and the group that Uglow sketches were leaders. What's wonderful about this book is not so much the depth of investigation into any particular person or topic, but the network of people and topics that gives a sense of how the world was changing.

Watt's improvements to steam engines let them extend the range of their application beyond pumping water to turning shafts to drive mills to grind grain, spin cotton, etc. There was a frenzy to catalog minerals and plants. Chemistry was transformed as different types of gases were discovered and classified.

Uglow covers a wide range of such discoveries and inventions, painting in the political and economic landscape that the creative geniuses had to work with.

What I found most remarkable - maybe it's just because it was at the end of the book, so it's freshest in my mind - was the transformation in the political landscape brought about by the French Revolution. Priestey's house was burned down by a reactionary mob and he ended up fleeing to America.

That's a remarkable feature of history. The stream of trouble is never ending but constantly shifting. If you're lucky enough to figure out how to crack a problem or two, it just earns you the opportunity to confront new challenges from whole other directions.

Uglow's book was a fascinating portrait of a time and place that have had a huge impact on history and our world today. ( )
1 vote kukulaj | Aug 18, 2010 |
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'O! pray! move on, Sir, and she, and this is amazingly fine; I fancy myself travelling along with that little earth in its course round the gilded Sun . . .'
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To Desmond King-Hele and Shena Mason
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On 12 December 1731, Erasmus Darwin was born at the Old Hall in Elston, about ten miles north-east of Nottingham, the sturdy seventh child of Robert and Elizabeth Darwin.
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Led by Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham was formed from a group of amateur experimenters, tradesmen and artisans who met and made friends in the Midlands in the 1760s. 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 Wedgwood; the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet, inventor and theorist of evolution (a forerunner of his grandson Charles Darwin). Later came Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen and fighting radical. Led by Erasmus Darwin they joined a small band of allies, 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 revolutionise its soul. Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men is a vivid and swarming group portrait that brings to life the friendships, political passions, love affairs, and love of knowledge (and power) that drove these extraordinary men. It echoes 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. Winner of the PEN Hessel-Tiltman prize for history, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography, The Lunar Men captures the creation of the modern world with lucid intelligence, sympathy and wisdom. Jenny Uglow is also the prize-winning author of Nature's Engraver, Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories and most recently, In These Times.

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