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The Great Filth: The War Against Disease in Victorian England Hardcover – Mar 1 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press; 1st Edition edition (March 1 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0750943785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0750943789
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #991,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"A wealth of engaging detail."  —Guardian

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Stephen Halliday is the author of The Great Stink of London and Newgate.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1 review
Halliday is dead wrong on both Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole Oct. 14 2015
By Dr Lynn McDonald - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Halliday’s inaccuracies in The Great Filth: Disease, Death. are extreme on both Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. Nightingale he accused of “going to her grave” opposed to germ theory, believing that disease was caused by “a bad smell”! How silly. Yet Nightingale was firm that smells were only an indication of something foul, the point was to get to the cause of the disease. Of course she did not know about germ theory during the Crimean War (1854-56), when neither Joseph Lister nor Louis Pasteur’s work was available, and long before the definitive paper on germ theory by Robert Koch in 1879.
Halliday is dead wrong as well on his heroine Mary Seacole, and takes the trouble to vilify Nightingale again - and again erroneously- saying that Nightingale turned her down as a nurse. He gets the title right for Seacole’s fine book, but if he had read it he might have noticed that Seacole in her brief meeting with Nightingale asked only for a bed for the night, which Nightingale found for her. She was then en route for the Crimea, to join her business partner to start their business. It, of course, as Seacole explained in three chapters, was to cater to officers. It provided no “clean accommodation” to anybody, and the “nourishing food” was for sale, not “given free of charge to those who could not afford to pay.” She and her partner went bankrupt, thanks to overstocking fine food and wines, again all explained in her book. Neither of them blamed giving away food or accommodation for their troubles. They were making money after the armistice, “my restaurant was always full,” as Mrs Seacole said. They could not sell their stock when the peace treaty was signed.
W.H. Russell did indeed praise Seacole, but hardly for the feats Halliday described. While Halliday has Seacole “often” braving gunfire, Russell, who was there, noted her presence on three battles - hardly often. How could she have been there “often”? She got to the war late, for she was busy in London on her gold-mining investments when the two nursing teams left for the war. Again, this is in her book! Why not read it?
Nightingale’s view of Seacole? If you go by what both said, and what their mutual friend, chef Alexis Soyer said, it was nuanced, praise and criticism.
What a pity. Nightingale had a lot to say, of great value, on filth and disease, so to trash her as Halliday does misses all that.
For more examples of errors on Seacole see and for better material on Nightingale see