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This book starts like a thriller – it is June 1703. A 21 year old alchemist (aka ‘scientist’ but the word had yet to be coined) escapes from a castle prison in Dresden and makes a bid for freedom from oppression and exploitation. It is not a thriller, though, but a historical account of the life of Johann Frederick Boettger, the man who worked out the formula for making ‘white gold’ porcelain. Janet Gleeson has a number of these ‘clever people locked up by mad kings’ stories to explore in this absorbing – and often unbelievable – saga. Augustus the Strong suffered from ‘maladie de porcelaine’ (porcelain madness) and went to incredible lengths to be the one ruler in the West who could exploit the magic material – which was in its way, a means of turning base material into gold. His factory in Dresden – Meissen- is the one that became world-renowned – but how many people know the name of the inventor? History is not kind to the exploited. Well worth reading if you have any interest in 18th century European history, or the history of invention and industrialisation that made the modern world.
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