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The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  433 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
In the 1760s a group of amateur experimenters met and made friends in the English Midlands. Most came from humble families, all lived far from the center of things, but they were young and their optimism was boundless: together they would change the world. Among them were the ambitious toymaker Matthew Boulton and his partner James Watt, of steam-engine fame; the potter Jo ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published October 1st 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2002)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,539)
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May 20, 2015 Caroline rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
Way too much information for me. Think of a fruit cake, and then pack it even more with fruit and nuts, then do the same thing again, and try and eat it! For me it was just too crammed and stodgy.

The 18th century was undoubtedly a wonderfully exciting era for science, technology and industry, and although this was conveyed in the writing and illustrations in this book, there was just too much STUFF. I wish the author had trodden more lightly - perhaps written a selection of biograph
Andrew Fish
Mar 05, 2013 Andrew Fish rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The trouble with reviewing books on history is that sometimes it's difficult to separate your interest in the subject from your interest in the book.

I came to The Lunar Men because of an interest in Erasmus Darwin - inventor, philosopher, poet, grandfather of Charles Darwin and the man from whom the hero of my own Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow draws his name. He and his fellow luminaries formed an intellectual crucible in a time of intense scientific and political ferment. What I wanted to
Michael T. Bee
Aug 31, 2013 Michael T. Bee rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci
Couldn't put it down. Sparked a general interest in science reading which only grows.
Feb 01, 2009 Athena rated it really liked it
What was happening in England, during the Georgian period, was dramatic. In two generations, roughly from 1730 to 1800, the country changed from a mainly agricultural nation into an emerging industrial force. The same time, new political ideas and revolutions, transformed the social and political status quo and forged the British Empire, affecting the lives of millions and opening the way to the industrialised age.

Within this political and social unrest, a diverse group of men, in Birmingham, ar
Aaron Crossen
May 07, 2007 Aaron Crossen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: europeanhistory
Fascinating look at an influential group of individuals (the Lunar Society) working in and around Birmingham as the Industrial Revolution was picking up speed in the late 18th century. Uglow is as confident and elegant in documenting the brilliance of Darwin's poetry as she is explaining the inner workings of one of Watt's great steam engines (a few of which function to this day, apparently. How I'd love to see them...) and Thomas Day's obsession with Rousseau. More than anything else, this book ...more
Way too long and, what a pity one has to overcome the poor, dull and heavy writing style of Jenny Uglow to learn about such men! I would have expected something more exciting and engaging. However, polymaths gifted, passionate, philanthropists and dedicated the Lunar Men were such a remarkable bunch of inventors and intellectuals that, their incredible story deserves to be discovered. So, pick up that book and learn about these geniuses, this small group of friends who changed the world just by ...more
Peter Ellwood
Sep 11, 2015 Peter Ellwood rated it it was amazing
Marvellous book. My goodness me, the outburst of creative genius that defined Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century and on into the nineteenth: is really well served, what with Richard Holmes’ Age of Wonder, and this magnificent piece of work. It offers a biography of the men who formed the Lunar Society, tracing their blossoming, in Birmingham, in the 1750s, to the quiet fading in the 1810s/20s.

For my part I was largely ignorant of the second half of the eighteenth century. I ten
John Read
Jan 20, 2012 John Read rated it it was amazing
History is the 'new black.' History programmes are all over TV these days and very popular too. About time. History books too, seem to fly off the shelves. This one is a corker. The Lunar Society was a group of eighteenth century amateur experimenters and inventors. That's putting it kindly. Heath Robinson comes to mind for some of them. They would meet, in Birmingham, every Monday night nearest to the full moon. But out of this group came some of the greatest inventions that changed the world. ...more
May 04, 2013 Sara rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book, though that may show a burgeoning obsession with the Enlightenment as much as the book itself. The men in the Lunar Society around Birmingham, and the people around them, are fascinating and the author does a really good job of telling the stories of their lives. There kept being sentences that would evoke an entire possible side story for me. The author clearly has an extra soft spot for Erasmus Darwin, and so did I by the end of the book. It is 500 pages, so a bit of ...more
Tim C
May 17, 2015 Tim C rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
As someone in Britain who went to school in the era of Margaret Thatcher ("milk snatcher") my history education from the ages of 10 to 16 was effectively limited to hard-boiled, concentrated facts and figures relating to the Industrial Revolution, with a sprinkling of WW1 & WW2 jingoism thrown in for good measure. Thankfully (& perhaps astonishingly) this nauseatingly Gradgrind-esque introduction didn't succeed in putting me off history for life, but conversely it perhaps gave me the ink ...more
James G.
Aug 25, 2015 James G. rated it it was amazing
Every time I wanted to skim, I couldn't. This long, rich account of how Natural Philosophy became Science in the second half of the 18th c., as told through the remarkably detailed personal account of a circle of extraordinary friends, is as good as any thing I've read on history. As I recently joined the Exploratorium as Director of Development, this book will remain an important touchstone for me of how I can relate to science history and teaching.
Aug 24, 2008 Dad rated it really liked it
An outstanding portrait of the Enlightenment in 18th Century England. And an exceptional group of people with vivid interests ranging from sciences, like botany, geology, medicine, physics through literature and political life, all set in a world that changed during their lifetimes from agrarian to industrial, in significant part because of their individual and collective efforts. A well-written portrait of a most interesting time and place.
Katharine Trelawney
Jun 13, 2012 Katharine Trelawney rated it really liked it
I loved this book. It's non fiction "plot is that it is about 8 eighteenth century amateur scientists who used to meet each month on the Monday nearest the full moon. (t's not a werewolf tale, in those days there was no street lighting.)

But that doesn't convey the sympathy of approach and fascinating detail of the interconnecting lives of these men who included Josiah Wedgewood, Matthew Boulton and Erasmus Darwin.
Maria Longley
Jan 15, 2014 Maria Longley rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, fa, 2014
This was my very faithful commuting companion, and part of the reason I took so long to read it. It was amazing to read about just how much these men were involved in and about a time where it was alright to be interested in absolutely everything! It was also interesting to read about the Dissenters and the London-Birmingham dynamic, and about all the inventions from soda water to steam engines... Busy, busy men.
Jan 21, 2013 Marilyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly detailed wide ranging research that weaves effortless together to recreate an exhilarating period in western history. A surge of scientific discovery and practical application that was to lift mankind put of the morass, but which inspired too the anti-intellectual reaction that we are experiencing anew today.
Judith Johnson
Aug 13, 2013 Judith Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic non-fiction book - I learnt so much about a part of history that was so deeply influential in the making of the Industrial Revolution. But no dull history text-book is this - it was fun getting to know the Lunar Men. Really want to do a road-trip now to see all the places in the Midlands mentioned!
Kit Kincade
Jan 03, 2013 Kit Kincade rated it it was amazing
An amazing and dizzying rendering of information. Though billed as "biography" it is so much more than that-it is the history of a place, or science, and the interconnectedness of great thinkers. Hard to take it all in!
Oct 01, 2012 Neale rated it really liked it
One of the very best 'portmanteau' historical biographies: not just a lovely story of a fascinating group of scholars and scientists, and their historical and intellectual milieu, but a biography of the very idea of friendship...
Monthly Book Group
Jan 19, 2014 Monthly Book Group rated it really liked it
This prize-winning book is a group biography of the 18th century experimenter members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham who met on the Mo(o)nday night nearest to the full moon. This was to facilitate their often lengthy journeys home after society meetings, and well illustrates their energy and enthusiasm. For example, Erasmus Darwin travelled some 10000 miles a year on horseback carrying out his medical duties.

The general response to the book was that it was a highly enjoyable, informative and
Jun 10, 2009 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Jenny Uglow’s fascinating book, The Lunar Men – Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World, describes the lives and activities of a group (actually, more than five persons) of men in 18th century England who collaborated in pioneering scientific and technological innovation. Located in the Midlands, they lived between about 1730 and 1820 and included such names as Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton, Joseph Priestly, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, and others. All were insatiably interested in all ...more
Dec 08, 2009 Adrian added it
A biography of the estimable group of English scientists (Day, Watt, Wedgewood, Edgeworth, Boulton, Darwin and Priestly among others) who met regularly from the 1750s to 1790s literally by the light of the moon. They were interested in everything- plants, geology, canal building, mineralogy, effect of different gases, steampower- you name it anything of a scientific nature was within their scope. Uglow brings in the politics of the time including the French Revolution which really ended the Luna ...more
Andrew Kasson
Feb 21, 2009 Andrew Kasson rated it liked it
Took a little while to get going and absorb all the background history, and the claims of men "who changed the world" might be a little dramatic, but it is an good book about some brilliant men.

In the late mid-late 18th century, science was still an open arena of thought and hypothesis. It was not yet under the rule of the military-industrial-academic complex. The men of this book were artisans-doctors-businessmen whose passion for ideas were the basis for a lot of scientific advancement. Some o
Aug 01, 2007 Mark rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, science
This is an intensely researched look at the lives of five fascinating "amateur inventors" in England during the dawn of the industrial revolution, who formed a society to promote their mutual learning. The group befriended fellow amateur scientist Benjamin Franklin of America, and included 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. There were some brilliant ...more
Norman Howe
May 22, 2015 Norman Howe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I've always been interested in the history of science and technology. This book fills a gap in my knowledge: I know very little about the 18th century.
Eric Miller
Very interesting topic but just kind of written in a disorganized way that read more like a summary for people who already knew the history.
Oct 10, 2014 Gwen rated it liked it
Shelves: unfinished
I made it to page 100 and kept falling asleep. The print is too small. Being a library book I can't keep it long enough to finish at this time. I am interested in Boulton and this group of men, but not sure I want to know as much as Uglow tells right at this time. I did like the part I read.
Nov 09, 2014 Steve rated it it was amazing
Great book about five 18th Century amateur scientists.
Charlotte Latham
Dec 22, 2015 Charlotte Latham rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and beautifully written.
Carol Weaver
I enjoyed it but found it hard going to begin with, descriptive rather than discursive. I can't see how else Jenny Uglow could have tackled it though, and it lights up in the second half as the Lunar Men reach their prime individually and develop their scientific knowledge through their scientific relationships.
Michael Pryor
Illuminating, far-reaching, splendid.
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Jennifer Sheila Uglow OBE (née Crowther, born 1947) is a British biographer, critic and publisher. The editorial director of Chatto & Windus, she has written critically acclaimed biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell, William Hogarth, Thomas Bewick and the Lunar Society, among others, and has also compiled a women's biographical dictionary.
More about Jenny Uglow...

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