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One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858 Hardcover – July 18, 2017
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And the biggest flaw of the story is that the resolution to the big stink is hardly discussed at all, and then only a couple of pages at the end. The author includes some coverage of the political friction around authorizing and funding a sanitary sewer system, but it would have been interesting to hear some quotes from the MPs in more detail. And it would have been worth a chapter to describe how the system was designed and built. The text only mentions this as a very abbreviated aside at the end.
Regretfully, it seemed tedious to me. My two cents, of course, and your mileage may vary.
Familiar as I am with Dickens, Dr. Ashton adds real flavor to his story: his foolish public defense of his separation, his turn to for-profit public performances to make money, his pointless involvement in a feud with Thackeray (which was a piece of the story that was pretty much new to me). She does the same for Darwin. I pretty much knew all about his reaction to the Wallace paper and how, with the help of friends, he had the papers quickly read publicly to establish precedence. What I didn’t know about was his use of hydrotherapy with Dr. Edward Lane, who was part of a famous divorce case that was in the papers that summer, competing with the Dickens separation for attention.
Which brings us to Disraeli. I knew very little about him until I read this book. He was Cabinet Minister during this summer of the Great Stink when the Divorce Act of the previous year needed amendment due to the Lane case. And then there is the prominent divorce case of Disraeli’s friend, Edward Bulwer Lytton. So many connections! More interesting, however, were the workings of Parliament as managed by Disraeli who managed to work important bills through, such as the India Bill and the Thames Bill which would end future recurrences of a noxious river.
My brief description of this excellent book cannot really do it justice. Its focus on three hot months and three influential men during the middle of 1858 is detailed and incredibly interesting. Dr. Ashton lays out many threads of the intricate web of London society, going well beyond her three star players to bring in a host of others who played a role in these events. She also shows how these events had effects well beyond their time. It is a very readable and informative history that should not be missed.