The Useful Knowledge of William Hutton shows the rapid rise of a self-taught workman and the growing prominence of the city of Birmingham during the two major events of the eighteenth-century - the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment. Hutton achieved wealth, land, status, and literary fame, but later became a victim of violent riots. The book boldly claims that an understanding of the Industrial Revolution requires engagement with the figure of the
'rough diamond', a person of worth and character, but lacking in manners, education, and refinement. A cast of unpolished entrepreneurs is brought to life as they drive economic and social change, and improve their towns and themselves. The book also contends that the rise of Birmingham cannot be understood
without accepting that its vibrant cultural life was a crucial factor that spurred economic growth. Readers are plunged into a hidden provincial world marked by literacy, bookshops, printing, authorship, and the spread of useful knowledge. We see that ordinary people read history and wrote poetry, whilst they grappled with the effects of industrial change. Newly discovered memoirs reveal social conflict and relationships in rare detail. They also address the problems of social mobility, income
inequality, and breath-taking technological change that continue to perplex us today.
Susan Whyman is an independent historian, formerly of Princeton University, where she received both MA and PhD degrees. Whyman lectures and publishes widely, both in England and the US, on British culture. She is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the author of The Pen and the People: English Letter Writers, 1660-1800, winner of the 2010 Modern Language Association Prize for Independent Scholars; Sociability and Power: The Cultural Worlds of the Verneys, nominated for the History Today Prize; and Walking the Streets of Eighteenth-Century London: John Gay's Trivia (1716), co-edited with Clare Brant (all published by Oxford University Press).