A Spark of Revolution by Martin Clagett

SEATTLE—Clyde Hill Publishing announced today that A Spark of Revolution: William Small, Thomas Jefferson and James Watt, by Martin Clagett, will be released on Feb. 22. This first-ever biography explores the curious connection between the American Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. 

Walter Isaacson, who encouraged the project, knew of Small from research for his best-selling biography of Benjamin Franklin. Small has intrigued writers ranging from Jon Meacham to Jenny Uglow, and even novelist John Dos Passos. Yet this is the first complete biography of the Scotsman. The book’s foreword is by historian and author Garry Wills. 

Small played a significant role in the education of a young Thomas Jefferson at William and Mary College, and then went to work alongside the innovators James Watt and Matthew Boulton on an improved steam engine that helped to usher in the Industrial Revolution.


“It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr. William Small of Scotland was then Professor of Mathematics,” Jefferson writes in his autobiography. “A man profound in most of the usual branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manner, and an enlarged and liberal mind. He, most happily for me became soon attached to me, and made me his daily companion when not in school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science and of the system of things in which we are placed.” 

In his forthcoming book, Clagett writes that William Small was an accidental apostle of the Scottish Enlightenment, bringing its methods and philosophical foundations to a nation being born. 

“He helped transform the abstractions of Newtonianism into an early manifestation of logical positivism, and he was also an active agent in transforming Britain from an agrarian society into an industrial one by means of intellectual, scientific, and collegial engagement. Through these actions, Small was a part of an international cooperation in philosophy and literature known as the Republic of Letters.” 

William Small died on Feb. 25, 1775 – 247 years ago this month – as both the American Revolution and the global Industrial Revolution were getting underway. Unaware of his professor’s passing, as the sabers of war were rattling, Jefferson wrote to Small, “I shall still hope that amidst public dissension private friendship may be preserved inviolate, and among the warmest you can ever possess is that of Your obliged humble servant.” 

Harry T. Dickinson, a scholar at the University of Edinburgh, hopes the Small biography attracts the attention it deserves: “Earlier scholars have noted his existence in passing, when writing about the Enlightenment or the American or Industrial Revolutions, but they have failed to do full justice to his varied career and positive influence. Martin Clagett has rectified this neglect.” 

Clyde Hill Publishing is an independent, small press for books by, for and about founders, innovators, thinkers and tinkerers. @ClydeHillPub. Contact: info@clydehillpublishing.com

Pre-Order Your Copy

This title is now available for pre-order on Bookshop.org, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere books are sold. Shopping locally? Contact your favorite local bookstore and ask them to order a copy.