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  • Published: 21 December 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241287897
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $55.00

The Radical Potter

Josiah Wedgwood and the Transformation of Britain

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.

  • Published: 21 December 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241287897
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $55.00

About the author

Tristram Hunt

Tristram Hunt is one of Britain's best known young historians. Since 2010 he has been the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, and in October 2013 was made Shadow Secretary of State for Education. He is a lecturer in British history at Queen Mary, University of London, and has written numerous series for radio and television. He is also a regular contributor to the Times, Guardian and Observer. His previous books include The English Civil War at First Hand, Building Jerusalem, and The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, which was published in more than a dozen languages.

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Praise for The Radical Potter

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

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

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

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

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

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 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

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

The indefatigable one-legged artist and abolitionist Josiah Wedgwood personified the optimism of Georgian Britain. Hunt brings him brilliantly to life.

Iona McLaren, Daily Telegraph Books of the Year

Josiah Wedgwood was "the Steve Jobs" of the 18th century, according to Tristram Hunt, the historian and V&A director. Wedgwood, of modest background but expansive inventive genius, turned a Staffordshire pottery firm into a global company, one that showed that Britain could make high-quality porcelain, a high-demand product in the new age of tea drinking. Not bad for a man who couldn't turn a wheel because childhood disease disabled one of his legs. He was nicknamed "Owd Wooden Leg" by his workers - and referred to the day he lost his limb as "Saint Amputation Day".

Robbie Millen, The Times Books of the Year

Tristram Hunt, in The Radical Potter, underlines brilliantly the consumerism and politics of the age in the character of Josiah Wedgwood, in whom we can see all the energy of the era - the campaign for abolition, the birth of international trade, the stirrings of the industrial revolution, the combination of mass production and aesthetic sense.

Catherine Ostler, Aspects of History Books of the Year

Tristram Hunt, one of our finest historians, has done a magnificent job in The Radical Potter. Every chapter made me cheer and halloo.

A. N. Wilson, Spectator Books of the Year

The Radical Potter sees Tristram Hunt argue that Wedgwood was epicentral to the transformation of Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries ... This is a remarkable book from a historian at the top of his game.

Andrew Roberts, BBC History

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