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By Rick on 06-21-12
Nice Overview of a Remarkable Woman
I wanted a brief overview of Florence Nightingale's life and this book suited me. It is apparent from the very beginning that this is a biography written for older elementary kids or pre-teens. In the post-script, we learn that the book was written in 1909, so you have to be prepared for curious turns of phrases and other quirks.
The author, an American, seems to have been a family friend; she mentions her father going to England and meeting the Nightingales. The biography is a glowing, almost worshipful look at Miss Florence, and would probably not pass muster as a piece of scholarship. However, it is still useful, informative and entertaining.
Although Nightingale is presented as too-good-to-be-true, Richards does not sanitize the horrors of the Crimean War. Soldiers died of their injuries and died from illness, and Nightingale was forced to make order out of chaos; not only did she succeed at that, she used her knowledge to develop the fundamentals of modern nursing (with lots of assistance from Catholic nuns in France and Lutheran deaconesses in Germany). The book also describes the nightmare of military red tape and inefficiency, which caused hospitalized soldiers to die while medicine and supplies rotted in warehouses. Nightingale is presented in this book as the one person who cut through the red tape and forced leaders to sign papers and open warehouse doors through her dogged determination; I hope all of that is true. And in one case, Miss Florence didn't even bother to ask for permission, which was very interesting.
The author's worldview is very much the kind you would expect from early-20th century writers; there is high praise for proper upper-class British ways and habits, and a bit of condescension toward the poor, the rough, and the foreign. If you can get past that, and also forgive the writer for other eccentries like the insertion of poems and stray observations, you can quite enjoy the overall book.
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