The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed The World

Tomorrow I start the section of my economic history class that covers the industrial revolution, so this Chicago Boyz post is exceedingly timely. They recommend Jane Uglow’s book, The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World, in which she analyzes the intellectually fertile friendship of Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley, James Watt, Matthew Boulton, and Josiah Wedgwood. I focus quite strongly on Watt, Boulton and Wedgwood in my class, so I am thrilled to hear of this book. And this comment from one of the Amazon reviewers:

Uglow gives wonderful personal details about these men and a multitude of minor characters. The amazing detail here represents a triumph of careful scholarship and digging into letters, chapbooks, and forgotten volumes. The Lunar Men helped form their society in significant ways; Uglow is very good, however, in showing historic influences on them, and a reader will learn plenty here about the American and French Revolutions, as well as the Industrial one, and in science, the revolutionary schemes of Linnaeus and Lavoisier. Best of all, this is a preservation of remarkable friendships cemented by the happy communal activity of learning things and experimenting.

makes me want to read it as soon as possible! Note especially that last bit, “the happy communal activity of learning things and experimenting”. Even though James Watt was a pioneer in patenting his inventions, and following up on potential patent violations, he also recognized the complementarity of “learning things and experimenting” to his desires to commercialize his inventions. It’s a great example of the magnitude of the positive spillovers from sharing knowledge, and using shared knowledge to create new knowledge.