Books are easy to wrap up as Christmas presents, you know

I’ve read a couple of brilliant Brum-related books recently, and I thought I’d suggest that you should enjoy them too…


The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson is a great book about Joseph Priestley — inventor of carbonated water (and hence fizzy pop), discoverer of oxygen and the first man in Birmingham to have what I fancy as a job (local luminaries paid him to muck about — erm, experiment — in return for hearing the results). His time in Birmingham — yes another Lunar Society member — was quite short, and ended in his house being burnt to the ground by religious zealots, but it was a time that epitomised the open collaboration between peers and the ground-breaking ideas that he had been striving for where ever he lived. The book is to a certain extent focused on his influence on the American founding fathers, Franklin and Adams, but it’s a read that doesn’t shy away from making parallels with the modern day — would that our scientists and engineers were equally at home talking politics and religion. If it whets an appetite for lunaticks try Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future by Jenny Uglow which while a little more heavy going is a top read.

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This is Birmingham: A Glimpse of the City’s Secret Treasures is a brand new book full of angularly stylised images of Brum by Jan Bowman. It tells the story of Birmingham, from one house and a goat to Selfridges and canal-side living. It’s aimed at ages six and up — and yes it would make a fascinating introduction for young children to the story of the city, but there’s depth here. It touches on Paine and the Rights of Man, Wedgewood’s anti-slavery broach things (and the hash commercial realities that it was the industrial revolution that helped to end slavery) — it’s a book that makes history beautiful. It makes Smallbrook Queensway beautiful too and that’s got to be worth showing everyone.

If that’s not enough Brum bookage for you, why not learn a little of the history of social housing – though the prism of Chelmsley Wood and  Lynsey Hanley’s Estates: An Intimate History. It’s part memoir, part politics — but as a real view of the ‘Wood it’s fantastic. Or you could get Chinny’s genuinely brilliant Proper Brummie: A Dictionary of Birmingham Words and Phrases — which should excite anyone who enjoys saying “outdoor” to confuse posh in-laws.

Or Dogs in Birmingham of course (it’s only a penny!).

Yep, there are Amazon affiliate links in there, you wouldn’t begrudge us a cut would you?

  • No need to be giving Chinny more credit than he deserves. The 'Proper Brummie' book is co-authored by Steve Thorne. He has a PhD is speaking Brummie and was also the drummer in Brummie indie band Delicious Monster during the 90s (I seem to recall they played on top of the rotunda once for a Midlands Today news item).

    I tell you all this as he was ex-KEGS Aston (my year but different house, one of those Manton types).