The Radical Potter

The Radical Potter

Josiah Wedgwood and the Transformation of Britain

Summary

*Longlisted for the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History, 2022*

A spectacular new biography of the great designer, entrepreneur, abolitionist and beacon of the Industrial Revolution, from acclaimed historian and Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tristram Hunt

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.

Reviews

  • 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

About the author

Tristram Hunt

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.
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