Sunday, 6 October 2013

Florence Nightingale, by Mark Bostridge

Why I read it: Atlantic Review

Podcasts: Blackwell Online Podcasts

Brow: If you're a nursing student, you're probably reading this for a course, which makes it middle brow. If you're reading it out of pure interest, it's upper middle brow.

Summary: The life and times of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing and reformer of the British healthcare system. In exacting detail.

What I liked about it: Of course I had heard of Florence Nightingale, and even went to the museum at St Thomas' hospital the last time I was in London, but I didn't know much about her besides the whole Crimea debacle. For example, I didn't know that her family had made it extremely hard for her to pursue her profession or reforms, believing that her place was at home or with a husband and children. In fact, she moved out on her own because she was so tired of her mother and sister pestering her to sit home and take tea with them. Some of the problems she encounters are highly entertaining as well, for example public resistance to the fact that some of her first group of nurses were Catholic nuns, which caused outcry in the UK that they would try to convert troops. In another episode, one of her rivals suggests that nurses should only be upper middle class ladies, so they shouldn't get a salary, as duty is all the recompense they need. And of course the constant struggle to find nurses who could stay sober for one damned shift. It actually makes you pretty grateful that FN was able to accomplish what she did.

What I didn't like about it: Her collected correspondence is 17 volumes, and it feels like Bostridge is trying to quote each and every letter she ever wrote. Also, especially at the beginning the book feels less like a biography and more like a hagiography. He does get better towards the end and even admits that Ms Nightingale might have had some character flaws and demanded a bit too much of some of her supporters.

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