[Hunt's] focus is the man and his times, in a book that, with its yellowed maps and extensive quotations from ye olde correspondence, is both utterly transporting and extremely cozy ... One of the many pleasures of “The Radical Potter” is its meticulous catalog of the china-buying public’s tastes, some whimsical, others bizarre or sinister ... Will your eyes glaze over reading about the importance of Britain’s naval prowess to the ceramics trade? Perhaps, but on balance this is as dishy a biography about dishes as can be imagined.
... engrossing ... Although admiring, [Hunt] is not blind to the contradictions in his subject — among them Wedgwood’s reliance on aristocratic patronage and his passionate advocacy of the French Revolution. Hunt’s most shocking chapter is his last, which recounts how the brand that Josiah and his Victorian successors created was destroyed in the late 20th century. Directors continued to extract millions from the business while outsourcing production to the Far East, so that thousands of workers in the Potteries were laid off. It is a depressing display of what has gone wrong with capitalism, and with us.
Almost everything you need to know about the heroic age of Britain’s Industrial Revolution – its energy, hypocrisies, almost unstoppable curiosity and inventiveness – is neatly parcelled in the life of the one-legged Nonconformist potter who built an international industry from the clay and coal of Staffordshire ... yet, despite Wedgwood’s whirl of activity, he does not quite come alive in these pages. He was admirable, not lovable. He kept a commonplace book, but it appears to be filled with technical observations...He may have been a genial enough companion – his closest relationships were with male friends – but he was also a bit of a dry old stick. Hunt does his best with the human interest ... Hunt deftly weaves together the complex forces in Wedgwood’s world ... Hunt’s book reminds us that our predecessors could be infuriating, complex folk, resistant to neat analysis. How should we make sense of an economic system that was based on so much pious Christian hypocrisy, everyday cruelty and oppression, but which also roiled with energy that Britain now so conspicuously lacks? ... The book comes most to life in its epilogue, when Hunt contemplates the collapse of the modern Wedgwood company under Tony O’Reilly’s stewardship, and then the behaviour of the US private equity company KPS Capital Partners as it picked over the remains – offshoring production, sacking skilled workers and leaving Stoke-on-Trent with an industrial ruin. His anger smokes off the page. The story of Josiah Wedgwood, it turns out, isn’t only about the Industrial Revolution – it is also about Britain today. It isn’t flattering.