Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Lunar Men” as Want to Read:
The Lunar Men
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Lunar Men

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  725 ratings  ·  66 reviews
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 Pr ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published October 1st 2003 by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux-3pl (first published 2002)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Lunar Men, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Lunar Men

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  725 ratings  ·  66 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Lunar Men
Oct 29, 2014 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
Dec 26, 2012 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
Judith Johnson
Aug 13, 2013 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!
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
So it took me a month and a half to get through this book, so what? Non-fiction books always take a bit longer to get through, I think because there's so much more content to understand and absorb.

Needless to say, I still enjoyed this book and learning about the men of the Lunar Society and the time they lived in. There are so many books and such interest in the 1800s but the 1700s, specifically the late 1700s are just as interesting, if not more interesting, in my opinion.

While I enjoyed this
Aurélien Thomas
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
Michael T. Bee
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci
Couldn't put it down. Sparked a general interest in science reading which only grows. ...more
Notes of a Curious Mind
Feb 01, 2009 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
Peter Ellwood
Aug 12, 2014 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 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
Mar 27, 2013 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
James G.
May 24, 2015 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. ...more
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
"The Lunar Men" is a meticulous account of several extraordinary doctors, artists, and experimenters whose attempts to understand and control the world around them led to great advancements in science and manufacturing during the 18th century. These included Erasmus Darwin, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley, and Matthew Boulton. At monthly meetings of their Lunar Society of Birmingham, they discussed, argued, and cajoled each other about subjects as varied as steam engines, the namin ...more
Michael Huang
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
An opportunity, seriously lost.

The Lunar men, so named because they meet on days of full moon so that they can walk home in the moonlight, are a group of intellectual heavy weights that helped each other and helped move the society forward -- significantly. They included Erasmus Darwin (whose writing foreshadows that of his grandson Charles), James Watt (whose improved engine officially marks the beginning of the industrial revolution), Joseph Priestley (who is sometimes credited with the discov
Dec 08, 2009 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
Marguerite Kaye
I was really enjoying this book both times I attempted to read it but I've had to call it quits a 100 pages in. Not because of the content, but because of the format. I have the paperback version and the text is TINY!!!!

I have always had perfect vision, but sadly age and work are taking its toll. So I knew the text would be a problem when I bought it, but I bought it anyway because I really wanted to read it. But then I stopped. And then I finally caved, got my eyes tested, and got glasses. And
Aug 01, 2007 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
Jul 01, 2008 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 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
Nov 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fa, non-fiction, 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 06, 2013 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.
Oct 01, 2012 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... ...more
Kit Kincade
Dec 31, 2012 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! ...more
Richard Howard
Dec 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2020
"The legacy of the Lunar men is with us still, in the making of the modern world, and in the inspiring confidence with which all these friends, in their different ways, reached so eagerly for the moon."
This extensively researched and beautifully written account of the making of the modern world is a masterpiece of historical writing. Its breadth is enormous, its cast many but Jenny Uglow maintains interest and readability throughout. These Lunar men were of a time when it seemed nothing was beyo
Summer Meyers
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
I did it! I finished it! I think it took me an entire year, but I did it! And I feel like I have conquered the moon! Ah-ha!

This is an extremely in depth look at science in 1700 England focusing primarily on a group of men who formed a society known as the Lunar men.

I have no excuse, except to say that Patti Maxwell made me do it.

It was fascinating in a lot of ways because it was a time when medicine, botany, geology, engineering etc. were all under this umbrella of "science" giving these men the
Mar 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I am fascinated by the history of science and technology, and I found this long and very thoroughly researched book to be a real treat. I hadn’t realised until reading it how closely the leading lights of British science and industry were connected to each other in the late 1700s.

But close they were, and often met monthly in an informal association called the Lunar Society (because they met on nights with a full moon).

Just a list of those who came to those meetings is almost sufficient to show w
Tim Chamberlain
May 16, 2015 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 inkling tha ...more
Monthly Book Group
Nov 18, 2010 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
Ben Ballin
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not sure I can sum up this richly-packed book better than the author does herself. The sheer energy of these people's lives, their breadth of curiosity, is extraordinary: they were dissenters and capitalists, rationalists, scientists and poets. The vitality that they brought to Birmingham, the city I live in, and to the wider worlds of science, industry, commerce and the arts is quite mind-blowing.
This is part of the author's own conclusion: "The Lunar group were bourgeois capitalists who
Jan 10, 2017 rated it liked it
The Lunar Men is an exhilarating look at some of the great men of 18th Century Britain--Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestly, James Watt, and Matthew Boulton. Each one of these men had an insatiable curiosity. While pursuing their own fields, they would suddenly pounce upon fossils, or chemistry, or anatomy and start investigating that field. Their exuberance is reflected in the author's style which rushed along a bit much for me. They are called "The Lunar M ...more
Gareth Evans
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
A detailed account of the lives and broad interested of the men that formed the Birmingham Lunar Society and contributed so much to the scientific and industrial development of the U.K. Uglow’s account seems well researched and is well written and always interesting.

I have just two minor quibbles. Firstly, there is perhaps too much detail. It’s a long book and I am not sure that it the elision of some of the material could have made for a better read. Secondly, Uglow is not strong on context, t
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
  • Mutiny on the Bounty: A saga of sex, sedition, mayhem and mutiny, and survival against extraordinary odds
  • The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes
  • The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession
  • Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef
  • Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography
  • Catesby's Birds of Colonial America
  • The Cut Out Girl: A Story of War and Family, Lost and Found
  • The Scourging Angel: The Black Death in the British Isles
  • Beyond the Point (DI Nick Dixon, #9)
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers: How Maths Can Make Life Better
  • Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math
  • Writers' London
  • River Cottage Love Your Leftovers: Recipes for the resourceful cook
  • Lockdown
  • The Foundling
  • A Terrible Beauty (Katie Maguire, #1)
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

Juneteenth, observed on June 19th each year, is an American holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in Galveston,...
138 likes · 19 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »