The Radical Potter
The Life and Times of Josiah Wedgwood
Author: Tristram Hunt
From one of Britain’s leading historians and the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, a scintillating biography of Josiah Wedgwood, the celebrated eighteenth-century potter, entrepreneur, and abolitionist
Wedgwood’s pottery, such as his celebrated light-blue jasperware, is famous worldwide. Jane Austen bought it and wrote of it in her novels; Empress Catherine II of Russia ordered hundreds of pieces for her palace; British diplomats hauled it with them on their first-ever mission to Peking, audaciously planning to impress China with their china. But the life of Josiah Wedgwood is far richer than just his accomplishments in ceramics. He was a leader of the Industrial Revolution, a pioneering businessman, a cultural tastemaker, and a tireless scientific experimenter whose inventions made him a fellow of the Royal Society. He was also an ardent abolitionist, whose Emancipation Badge medallion—depicting an enslaved African and inscribed “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?”—became the most popular symbol of the antislavery movement on both sides of the Atlantic. And he did it all in the face of chronic disability and relentless pain: a childhood bout with smallpox eventually led to the amputation of his right leg.
As historian Tristram Hunt puts it in this lively, vivid biography, Wedgwood was the Steve Jobs of the eighteenth century: a difficult, brilliant, creative figure whose personal drive and extraordinary gifts changed the way we work and live. Drawing on a rich array of letters, journals, and historical documents, The Radical Potter brings us the story of a singular man, his dazzling contributions to design and innovation, and his remarkable global impact.