Monday 8 June 2020

Lunar Men

'Has the world gone mad?' is a question that answers itself. However, I can't recall any other time when I've known our society quite so deranged and hellbent on self-destruction. I do my best to avoid the news – especially the broadcast news – but it's impossible to get away from it...
  Happily, my latest lockdown 'big read', Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men, takes me back to a time when things were very different. The story of the Lunar Society, 'the friends who made the future', this is a big book about a big subject – a period of time, in the 18th century, when a group of amateurs, working in an atmosphere of conviviality, friendship and good cheer, sought to unlock the secrets of Nature and thereby reveal (as they cheerfully assumed) the workings of Providence. 'Natural philosophy', the mechanical and fine arts, experimental science, invention, business and manufacture all came together in a period of intellectual ferment in which 'philosophical friendship' sat easily with parties and dances, card games, drinking and conversation late into the night (the Lunar Men would often make their unsteady way home by moonlight). And this extraordinary flowering of the arts and sciences was played out in the true heart of England, the enduring Mercia, or more prosaically the Midlands – in the Potteries of Staffordshire, the rising manufacturing town of Birmingham, and the cities of Derby and Lichfield, the latter home both to the 'father of evolution' Erasmus Darwin and to Samuel Johnson, who said of his native town, 'Sir, we are a city of philosophers; we work with our heads, and make the boobies of Birmingham work for us with their hands.' If the Lunar Men were indeed making the future, they must surely have envisaged a very different one from what lies around us now.


  1. great history book, one of my faves

  2. I assume you know that Johnson married his Elizabeth in Derby at St Werburgh's. You can pick up the key to the church at Derby Museum, just opposite (well, in normal times, that is).