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Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
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The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale

A-NightingalesFlorence Nightingale (1820-1910) was far more than the "Lady with the Lamp," avenging angel, and nurse; she was also a privileged Victorian and, for a while, one of the most famous women in Britain. Gill places the "Bird" in her upper-class context, which both provided her with opportunities and smothered her. Driven by a desire for intellectual freedom and social change, she bucked traditional expectations, turning down marriage (and motherhood) for an "unacceptable" nursing career. In 1854, she marched off to Turkey as a wartime nurse, where she modernized military hospitals and later pioneered sanitary reforms and nursing schools throughout Britain. By the time she retired, she had blazed the path for generations of women—and public health reformers—to come.
Ballantine. 560 pages. $27.95.
ISBN: 0345451872

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"… [a] marvelous and engrossing study. … Gill does more than offer a fresh biography of the lady called the Bird by the soldiers she nursed in the Crimea; she also creates a dynamic snapshot of (privileged) Victorian society." Lisa Schwarzbaum

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"Remarkably, in a book so long, [Gill] misses few opportunities for making connections and—when appropriate—guesses at what might have been going on under the surface. Admirers of Anthony Trollope will find similar qualities here: meticulous detail in describing both public and private life, a steady hand when people or events get ugly and a genteelly wicked wit throughout." Emily Gordon

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Nightingales is surely destined to become the definitive biography of this remarkable woman. Moreover, the book manages to achieve a rare historian’s trifecta: Not only is it painstakingly thorough and free of intrusive modern agendas, but it is also compellingly written, brisk and engaging enough to be read like fiction." Zac Unger

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Gill’s style is absorbing in spite of her randomly inserted first-person commentary, which tends to be abrupt and distracting, and some of the obscure mentions of far-flung relatives and acquaintances become tedious and too convoluted at times to follow. Nevertheless, the saga of the Nightingale family and the depth of detail of Victoriana is absorbing." Lorrie Lykins

Critical Summary

"Through the facts [Nightingale] always saw lives," writes Gill, author of books on Agatha Christie and Mary Baker Eddy. Such is also true of Gill, who abandons historical speculation in favor of fastidious reliance on diaries and letters from Nightingale’s family, friends, and colleagues. Although one of many existing biographies, Nightingales is one of the first to thoroughly examine the relationship between her public and private life. Besides vividly evoking Austenesque mores, Gill creates full-blooded characters, from a sickly sister to a dilettante father. Critics disagree about Gill’s tone; while novelistic, the constant use of "I" distracted some and edified others. Similarly, the myriad details both add and subtract from the narrative. Yet, on each page, Nightingales offers a unique perspective on the Bird’s fascinating life.