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Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale Paperback – September 13, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

“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.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* What Florence Nightingale--the legendary Lady with the Lamp--did for the wounded and suffering British soldiers in Crimea has long secured her place in the history books. But what she did within the circle of her own family has remained largely hidden from view. Until now. Informing careful scholarship with imaginative insight, a distinguished biographer brings to life the entire gifted but perplexing Nightingale family. Unlike biographers deafened by the acclaim for Florence's courageous medical crusade in the military hospitals of Scutari, Gill can still hear the quiet but vexed voice of a father who instilled iconoclastic bravery in his daughter only to recoil in dismay when that bravery steeled her against a favorable marriage so that she could pursue her luminous ambitions. Similarly, while other biographers focus on how Florence advanced unprecedented reforms in military sanitation and medical care by deftly orchestrating two royal commissions, Gill probes the ways that Florence's descent into invalidism during the commission years strained her already difficult relations with her sister and mother. To be sure, readers will learn much from Gill about how Florence pursued her epoch-making objectives on the broad Victorian stage--waging fierce bureaucratic warfare against obstructionists in the War Office, drafting key parliamentary speeches for sympathetic cabinet ministers. But because they can turn elsewhere for analyses of her public life, readers will appreciate this book most for its novel perspective on Florence's alternately tender and irksome dealings with her own kin. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (September 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345451880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345451880
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #599,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gillian Gill, who holds a PhD in modern French literature from Cambridge University, has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale, Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries, and Mary Baker Eddy. She lives in suburban Boston.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Judith J. Janone on September 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
NIGHTINGALES: THE EXTRAORDINARY UPBRINGING AND CURIOUS LIFE OF MISS FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE BY GILLIAN GILL

By all accounts, Florence Nightingale was a saint although she belonged to a church that did not make such claim. A privileged Victorian family of sister, mother and father nurtured this enigma. A woman from the British upper classes ventured beyond the drawing rooms, beyond the nurseries, to find vermin and rats and sewage infesting Scutari and the Crimea where she nursed soldiers at war. To read of hospital conditions during the Crimean War is one thing, to see the organization, the singleness of purpose and the dedication that manifested a turnaround in those conditions, is perhaps difficult to fathom given current medical practices. Gillian Gill portrays an ambitious if eccentric Nightingale clan whose reach extended to 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. Sibling rivalry between Florence and young Parthenope was staggering. The development of relationships within the family and those working for them is fully realized. This is a fine book. Let it not be forgotten that Florence's superiors in the Crimea were all male and they watched (and fumed) while a tiny woman succeeded where they had failed. Namely in the care of the wartime solider.

Judith Janone
Burlington, Vt.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By G. Martyn on January 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Florence Nightingale's life holds a fascination for me. This is an extremely detailed read and Miss Gill's vocabulary is so extensive that one may desire a dictionary by one's side at times. The lifestyles of the families of privilege during the Victorian era painted a new portrait of a true hero, and opened windows to how those times still effect us today! The descriptions of hospital life during the Crimean War were eye-opening, as were the the illnesses in the Nightingale family were thought provoking from a medical and psycological standpoint. As a nurse myself, I am sorry I have not adequately appreciated "Flo"! Not easy reading, but worth the effort.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Keirsey on November 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is what it says it is: its about the Nightengales, in particular Florence Nightengale. The important aspect of this book is giving a full and clear surrounding social context of Florence. So not only does one get an better understanding of her temperament and character, but more importantly the intricate sociology of upper-class Englishmen (and women) in the 19th century european society.

This broad biography helps illustrate both the importance of temperament (inborn nature of the person) and character (the developed habits of an individual based on the interaction of temperament and environment).
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By YankeeChick on November 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book was wonderful in that it focused on the real person of Florence Nightingale and how she was a product of her unique upbringing and family background. Most biographies of her tend to paint her as a modern-day Teresa of Avila, but this one covers her warts and all. You come away realizing that although she accomplished amazing things in her life, she was still a real person with all kinds of challenges to overcome and a temperament that often worked against her in her efforts to accomplish her goals. That a woman like her would just retreat to a bedroom and live as an invalid for fifty year astounds me. I wonder what she might have accomplished if she had remained active & involved in society in a personal way rather than through letters and personal interviews. I've always admired her, but it's nice to see that she really had foibles and temper tantrums and wasn't the lily-white paragon that some people try to convince women to become.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on November 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It's been a century and a half since the Crimean war where one English young lady changed the way hospitals in general and military hospitals in particular were operated. She was at once nurse (before there were nurses), administrator, politician, lobbyist and more. Her famous chart showing the causes of mortality for soldiers (reproduced in the book) that she devised in 1857 launched a radical reform in the housing and medical treatment of soldiers.

And she got most of this done before becoming ill at age 37 and for all intents and purposes confined to her bedroom for the final fifty years of her life.

As a book, this one sets a new standard for biographies. It reads almost as a novel, yet it is exhaustively researched and documented. The notes at the end of the book take up more than fifty pages.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By CaptEO on January 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What I love about Gillian Gill's biographies is the obvious extensive research of her subject. I had finished reading Gill's second biography on Mary Baker Eddy and was so impressed I knew in the Florence Nightingale biography I would find a well-researched and well-written history of a very complex woman. Gill's subjects are not always easy to understand, but through Gill's research you gain at least a clearer idea of the woman behind the "Lady with the Lamp". A wonderful biography worth reading. I especially enjoyed learning more about Nightingale's family and how important they were in creating Florence Nightingale.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Carrie on April 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
I struggled between giving this book four stars or five stars. I considered giving it four stars for two reasons:

1.) The book starts a little slow and can be confusing with the flurry of names and families that the author presents. I read the first forty pages or so and gave up on the book for a few weeks. I am glad I picked it back up again, though.

2.) I was a little disappointed that we didn't get a lot of detail about Florence Nightingale after the Crimean War. We got so much detail about her life before and during the war, but the last part of the book sort of flies through her life after the war (i.e. her lengthy convalescence).

However, I decided to give the book five stars anyway because once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. I read it on the subway while commuting to and from work, and I would get disappointed when I'd get to my stop and have to put the book away. For me, the fact that it kept me entertained overrides the two complaints I mentioned earlier.

I also appreciate that the author gets a lot of her information from primary sources. She does interpret those documents (i.e. letters) to some extent , but not so much that she totally shapes your opinion of Florence Nightingale. It would've been easy for the author to say, "Florence Nightingale probably had 'X' psychological condition," but she didn't. She lets the reader develop his/her own opinions on Nightingale's personality and mind.

Another reviewer mentioned that you should keep a dictionary handy. Excellent tip. I kept Post-It flags in my pocket to flag all the words I'd never seen before (and there were a lot), and then I looked them up later. You'd think that this would make the writing seem pretentious, but it really didn't, strangely enough.

Another tip: Buy it on the Kindle if you have one and if you tend to carry your books with you. The paperback is kind of a beast to haul around.

Overall, great book!!!
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