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The Radical Potter

Josiah Wedgwood and the Transformation of Britain

Tristram Hunt



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Allen Lane
05 January 2022
A spectacular new biography of the great designer, entrepreneur, abolitionist and beacon of the Industrial Revolution, by the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Josiah Wedgwood, perhaps the greatest English potter who ever lived, epitomized the best of his age. From his kilns and workshops in Stoke-on-Trent, he revolutionized the production of ceramics in Georgian Britain by marrying technology with design, manufacturing efficiency and retail flair. He transformed the luxury markets not only of London, Liverpool, Bath and Dublin but of America and the world, and helping to usher in a mass consumer society. Tristram Hunt calls him 'the Steve Jobs of the eighteenth century'.

But Wedgwood was radical in his mind and politics as well as in his designs. He campaigned for free trade and religious toleration, read pioneering papers to the Royal Society and was a member of the celebrated Lunar Society of Birmingham. Most significantly, he created the ceramic 'Emancipation Badge', depicting a slave in chains and inscribed 'Am I Not a Man and a Brother?' that became the symbol of the abolitionist movement.

Tristram Hunt's hugely enjoyable new biography, strongly based on Wedgwood's notebooks, letters and the words of his contemporaries, brilliantly captures the energy and originality of Wedgwood and his extraordinary contribution to the transformation of eighteenth-century Britain.
Imprint:   Allen Lane
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 240mm,  Width: 162mm,  Spine: 34mm
Weight:   631g
ISBN:   9780241287897
ISBN 10:   0241287898
Pages:   352
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Dr Tristram Hunt is Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum and one of Britain's best-known historians. He served as MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central from 2010 to 2017 (when he led the campaign to save the Wedgwood Museum) and as Shadow Secretary of State for Education between October 2013 and September 2015. He was a senior lecturer in British history at Queen Mary, University of London, and has written numerous series for radio and television. His previous books include The English Civil War At First Hand, The Frock-Coated Communist- The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, Ten Cities that Made an Empire and Building Jerusalem- The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City, between them published in more than a dozen languages.

Reviews for The Radical Potter: Josiah Wedgwood and the Transformation of Britain

This is a remarkable and impassioned book. Josiah Wedgwood innovated across boundaries of technology and art and taste, commerce and scientific enquiry, and Tristram Hunt makes the powerful case for rediscovering his humane entrepreneurial spirit. The Radical Potter brings Wedgwood's protean energy alive for a new generation and I loved it. -- Edmund de Waal impassioned, wide-ranging ... Hunt's sympathetic, engaged and finely written biography makes it clear that [Wedgwood] was a one-off, and a genius. -- David Horspool * Spectator * fabulously unputdownable ... In parts it reads like a thriller. -- Judith Woods * Telegraph * Wedgwood's remarkable story has been told in many biographies over the years. The great contribution of The Radical Potter, Tristram Hunt's new book, is to place him in the context of the rapid economic and social changes during his lifetime that helped make his success possible. -- Richard Lambert * Financial Times * this brisk and highly readable biography ... places Wedgwood in a dissenting tradition that goes back to the civil wars ... It is a timely tale. -- Paul Lay * The Times * engrossing ... Hunt, as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum and MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central from 2010 to 2017, is uniquely fitted to write this book. -- John Carey * Sunday Times * superb ... this delicious, meticulously researched, wide-ranging but never long-winded book made me admire Tristram Hunt as well as Josiah Wedgwood. -- Ysenda Maxtone Graham * Daily Mail * Hunt is exquisitely alive to all the contradictions in Wedgwood's achievements ... a rich portrait of the charismatic but contradictory man who made Georgian Britain the most stylish country in the world -- Kathryn Hughes * Mail on Sunday * One of the achievements of Tristram Hunt's biography... is too bring into view the commercial and moral instincts of the man behind the powerhouse ... Wedgwood emerges from this books as a man of voracious interest in the world. Canny and determined, he had both strong beliefs and the adaptability that marks any great innovator. Hunt ... is as interested in what the man can tell us about the times as the times meant for the man. -- Sarah Watling * Literary Review * this attractively packaged ... splendid... biography of ceramics impresario Josiah Wedgwood ... reminds us not only of what has been lost in terms of manufacturing, but what can be regained. -- Jacqueline Riding * Country Life * Hunt performs the important task of telling the great potter's story clearly and accessibly ... Wedgwood the man should be as famous as Wedgwood the brand. That he is not might be due to his business - there are more heroic and glamorous trades than making pots - and to the national tendency to undervalue manufacturing. Hunt's book should help to correct that imbalance. -- Rowan Moore * The Observer * Confident ... Hunt makes sure Wedgwood's pots stay at the heart of his biography -- Tanya Harrod * Prospect * easily the best account of that multi-faceted genius -- A. N. Wilson * The Times *

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