The Athenaeum More Than Just Another London Club Michael Wheeler

Publication date:
22 Sep 2020
Yale University Press
440 pages: 235 x 165mm
37 color + 2 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

Buy this eBook

You can purchase this title from a number of online retailers:

A compelling history of the famous London club and its members’ impact on Britain’s scientific, creative, and official life

When it was founded in 1824, the Athenæum broke the mold. Unlike in other preeminent clubs, its members were chosen on the basis of their achievements rather than on their background or political affiliation. Public rather than private life dominated the agenda. The club, with its tradition of hospitality to conflicting views, has attracted leading scientists, writers, artists, and intellectuals throughout its history, including Charles Darwin and Matthew Arnold, Edward Burne-Jones and Yehudi Menuhin, Winston Churchill and Gore Vidal.
This book is not presented in the traditional, insular style of club histories, but devotes attention to the influence of Athenians on the scientific, creative, and official life of the nation. From the unwitting recruitment of a Cold War spy to the welcome admittance of women, this lively and original account explores the corridors and characters of the club; its wider political, intellectual, and cultural influence; and its recent reinvention.

Michael Wheeler was director of the project to build the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University and is now a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton. Among his books are Heaven, Hell, and the Victorians and Ruskin’s God.

“Wheeler's aim was not to produce a "traditional, insular" club history but rather a study of the influence of Athenians (as members are known) on public life. Their achievements are indeed bountifully recorded, along with their titles, joining dates and modes of admission.”—David Gelber, Times Literary Supplement

“[This] copiously illustrated book is yet another sumptuous product from Yale University Press.”—Richard Chartres, Church Times

“Underlining all the social and professional connections between the now more or less famous individuals who were elected members, not forgetting their links of friendship...[Wheeler] thus produces a sort of intellectual portrait of several decades, with references to the cultural and political battles which were fought in Britain all through the last two centuries.”—Laurent Bury, Cercles

‘Wheeler plays at the top of his game in this history of a national institution, and in his account of the brilliant intellects, the innovators, the dissidents and the world authorities who have been its members over the course of two centuries.’—Richard Davenport-Hines

‘A scholarly account, by an insider, of a private London club, an establishment niche which allows for eccentricity.  The membership has always included enough of the most eminent people of the time, from politicians to poets, to create a discreet safe haven where private and public life converge. Wheeler reveals the Athenaeum as a significant funny-bone in the anatomy of Britain.’—Victoria Glendinning