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The Lunar Men:
Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World

by Jenny Uglow

ISBN 0374528888 / 9780374528881 / 0-374-52888-8
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

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 [via]