The first think tank?

I was lucky enough to be able to hear Jenny Uglow, author of the Lunar Men, speak yesterday evening. She’s effervescent about her subject, brimming over with facts and anecdotes about the eighteenth century friends who met in Birmingham once a month — on the full moon — to eat, drink and talk about the latest developments in science, technology and philosophy.

The story centres around the lives of Matthew Boulton (the Birmingham entrepreneur), James Watt (inventor of the first efficient steam engine), Erasmus Darwin (doctor and grandfather of Charles Darwin) and Josiah Wedgewood (of pottery fame) among others. What’s remarkable is how successful the group became and how important the influence of other members of the group was on their success. As Jenny Uglow put it yesterday evening: “Each had his own niche, so there was little direct competition. But each was fascinated by everything.”

Gaby Wood’s review of the book in the Observer tells you more and Malcolm Gladwell’s review in the New Yorker digs a little deeper.

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