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A Strange Business

Published by Atlantic Books
Making Art and Money in Nineteenth Century Britain

Britain in the nineteenth century saw a series of technological and social changes which continue to influence and direct us today. Its reactants were human genius, money and influence, its crucibles the streets and institutions, its catalyst time, its control the market.

In this rich and fascinating book, James Hamilton investigates the vibrant exchange between culture and business in nineteenth-century Britain, which became a centre for world commerce following the industrial revolution. He explores how art was made and paid for, the turns of fashion, and the new demands of a growing middle-class, prominent among whom were the artists themselves.

While the leading figures of the world of art and literature are players here, so too are patrons, financiers, collectors and industrialists; lawyers, publishers, entrepreneurs and journalists; artists' suppliers, engravers, dealers and curators; hostesses, shopkeepers and brothel keepers; quacks, charlatans and auctioneers. Hamilton brings them all vividly to life in this kaleidoscopic portrait of the business of culture in nineteenth-century Britain, and provides thrilling and original insights into the working lives of some of our most celebrated artists.

“It is impossible to describe what this book is about; easier simply to say that it is wonderful ... This is a strange gallimaufry of a book but an entirely joyous one”.
Lynn Barber, Sunday Times.

“This witty, ingeniously structured book - at once a serious appraisal of a complex cultural phenomenon and a compendium of scurrilously funny stories - is not about art for art's sake, it is about work and the market”.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Times.

“Entertaining and original”.
Martin Gayford, Daily Telegraph [Five Stars].

“This is a brilliant account of learning, or failing, to survive in a market of extraordinary brutality”.
Philip Hensher, Spectator.

A Strange Business

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Paperback now available, £10.99

London Lights: The Minds that Moved the City that Shook the World 1805-51

‘Hamilton’s wonderful gallop through 40 of London’s finest years is impressively researched, somewhat romantic, enjoyable and engrossing. It is, I have to say it, decidedly illuminating book.’
Michael Moorcock, Daily Telegraph

'well-written, intelligent and entertainingly instructive'
Philip Ziegler, The Spectator

‘What a wonderful book … Read it and enjoy’
BBC Focus

‘This book … perfectly encapsulates one of the most industrious and creative periods in the city’s history … It is effectively the biography of half a century and … a vivid account of why not only London but Britain as a whole was once top dog.’
The Londonist

‘This hugely entertaining book … The author writes with a passion for his subject that is contagious. We are in awe of the research he must have done and the way he brings it to life.’
Ryedale Gazette and Herald

‘London Lights is rich in detail, a proverbial plum pudding of a book … The vitality of the time is caught brilliantly.’
Publishing News

‘Packed with memorable figures ranging from the bustling Faraday to the grouchy Turner, Hamilton's account of London's transformation … is an exceptional example of literary time travel.’

‘A fascinating patchwork of lives lived in the pursuit of great things.’
City A.M.

‘James Hamilton eavesdrops on conversations and darts between key places to conjure up a swirl of creative tumult … [and] finds eccentric characters and telling detail that can only be described as Dickensian.’
Wharf [the newspaper of Docklands]

Teeming with characters, incident and ideas, this vibrant narrative offers a fresh and original perspective on artistic and scientific London in the Regency and early Victorian periods.

London Lights: the minds that moved the city that shook the world

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Paperback now available, £10.99

Turner - A Life

Hodder and Stoughton, 1997 [Spectre paperback]
US, Random House, 2002, paperback edition, 2007

Turner: A Life. US Edition

‘A richly detailed biography … Hamilton maintains a steady course between academic respectability and an allowance for the drama and poignancy so clearly central to an accurate portrait of his subject’
Los Angeles Times


J. M. W. Turner, the greatest painter of landscape the world has ever known, exhibited his work proudly but was correspondingly reticent about his private life. In 1799, aged 24, he became an Associate of the Royal Academy at the youngest possible age, and, with a high awareness of his own worth and entrepreneurial cunning, demanded and achieved the highest prices. While influential collectors competed to buy his paintings, Turner travelled widely in Britain and Europe, observing the landscape and the people, and collecting material for a cycle of images that would be engraved, circulated widely and come to express the collective identity of Britain.

In this lucid blend of vibrant biography and acute art history, James Hamilton introduces Turner to a new generation of readers. Hamilton scotches many Turner myths – his ‘meanness’, his ‘reclusiveness’ – and paints a picture of a uniquely generous human being, a giant of the nineteenth-century and a beacon for the twenty-first.

Turner - A Life, by James Hamilton

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Faraday – The Life

HarperCollins, 2002; US, Random House, 2004

‘Faraday could not have had a better biographer … comprehensive, lucid, unfailingly intelligent.’ Financial Times

Michael Faraday is one of the giants of the history of science. A self-made, self-educated man, his public life was underpinned by his devout membership of a small Christian sect, whose rigid attitudes shadowed him at every turn, culminating in a crisis that tested his resolve as a scientist, his faith as a Christian and even the balance of his mind. Yet he became the greatest scientist of his day, and the central figure of an extraordinary scientific renaissance in London. At the age of 21 Faraday secured a position as laboratory assistant to Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution. He rapidly overtook Davy as Britain’s most celebrated scientist, and his work at the Institution as a gifted experimenter and inspiring lecturer gave unprecedented impetus to public understanding of science over the course of nearly half a century.

Faraday – The Life captures the excitement of the explosive mixture of scientific and other cultural activity in London during the first half of the nineteenth century, and radically reshapes our perceptions not only of Michael Faraday, but of the interaction of arts, sciences and education at the dawn of the modern age.

‘Full of rich and fascinating material … Hamilton’s biography humanises Faraday, and sets him convincingly in the context of Romanticism’ Lisa Jardine, The Times.

Faraday - the Life, by James Hamilton

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VOLCANO – Nature and Culture, by James Hamilton has been published by Reaktion Books in their 'Earth' series. The book grew out of the exhibition Volcano – from Turner to Warhol, curated by Hamilton at Compton Verney, Warwickshire in 2010.

“An arresting collage of mythology, philosophy, literature and spectacular works of visual art inspired by nature's most exuberant phenomenon – Hamilton's unique and imaginative miscellany and cultural geography of volcanoes and volcanology is a veritable treasure trove.”
– Clive Oppenheimer, volcanologist and author of Eruptions That Shook the World.

“James Hamilton elegantly conjures up the imagery and impact of volcanic events around the world, through centuries and across continents, mastering this complex topic with an observant eye, an incisive mind and a fluent pen; it’s a book to read and then keep coming back to, again and again.”
– Gillian Darley, author of Vesuvius: The Most Famous Volcano in the World.

“A fascinating read, the text covers all types of volcanoes across the world, and relates them to the paintings, wood engravings and a fresco from Pompeii. The linking of history, mythology and geological fact is flawless, providing fascinating insights into different cultures, the progress of Christianity and also the technique of painting.”
School Librarian journal


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James Hamilton's other books include:

Seven Lives of John Murray: The Story of a Publishing Dynasty
Humphrey Carpenter's last book, The Seven Lives of John Murray, was edited by James Hamilton and published by John Murrray in 2008

Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration
(Pavilion, 1990)
‘With this scholarly, sumptuous and delightful book, James Hamilton has done Rackham proud.’ New York Review of Books

William Heath Robinson
(Pavilion, 1992)
‘An affectionate and painstaking pictorial life of a rare comic artist whose work delights readers of all ages.’ Observer

Wood Engraving and the Woodcut in Britain c1890-1990
(Barrie and Jenkins, 1994)
‘The best book yet written on the art of this century’ Alan Powers, Interiors

The Sculpture of Austin Wright
(Lund Humphries and the Henry Moore Foundation, 1994)
Short-listed for the Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Award, 1994

Hughie O’Donoghue – Painting, Memory, Myth
(Merrell, 2003)

Louis le Brocquy – Homage to his Masters
(Gimpel Fils, 2006)

The Paintings of Ben McLaughlin
(Merrell, 2006)

György Gordon: Portraits and Figurative Work 1956-1993
Huddersfield Art Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery, 1994-95


The Seven Lives of John Murray

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Arthur Rackham by James Hamilton

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William Heath Robinson by James Hamilton

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Wood Engraving & the Woodcut in Britain

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The Sculpture of Austin Wright by James Hamilton

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Hughie O'Donoghue by James Hamilton

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Louis le Brocquy by James Hamilton
Gyorgy Gordon

The Paintings of Ben McLaughlin by James Hamilton

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© James Hamilton