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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

In Florence Nightingale’s day, if a person was sick – and lucky – he or she was nursed at home with caring family members tending the bedside. Hospitals were horrible places from which few emerged alive. The nurses were often drunks and prostitutes. Doctors had rudimentary skills. Thus the privileged Nightingale family was appalled when Florence, who had done her share of household nursing, announced that she wanted to train to work in a hospital. After all, her role was cut out for her: she was to be a decorative, witty lady. A career, much less nursing, was out of the question. It took many years, but Florence found her calling in Crimea. More English soldiers died of sickness there than died in battle. If they were wounded they were almost sure to suffer in misery, lying on pallets caked with old blood, hungry and thirsty, without anyone to offer them so much as a sip of water. Florence caused a revolution in her insistence for cleanliness, wholesome food, and kind treatment o…

Overall Book Review:

If you think of Florence Nightingale as I did—as someone who helped found modern nursing, you’re right, but there’s so much more to her than that!

Born to a life of leisure, parties and social visits, she had to fight tremendous pressure, much of it from her own mother and sister, to receive training as a nurse, a profession that at the time was filled with filthy, drunken women, many of them prostitutes.

When she was thirty-four, Florence was asked by the British army to gather a group of nurses to assist in caring for British troops in the Crimea. Many of the soldiers were dying not from wounds in battle but from cholera and from the horrific conditions in the hospitals where they slept on filthy floors in bedding that was soiled with human waste and crawling with vermin, without adequate food to eat, often without water, and with almost no medical attention.

Despite much opposition from some army doctors and from some other nurses, Florence proved equal to the challenge of cleaning the hospitals, providing nutritious meals, caring for the patients, and reducing the death rate from 42 percent to “just over 2 percent.”

If that were all Florence achieved in her lifetime, it would have been impressive, but in the “more than fifty years” she lived after the Crimean War, she established a school to train nurses, insisted on an investigation into the failings of the army’s medical system during the Crimean War and in India, worked to create better public health throughout India and to improve farming practices, advised the North during the Civil War on military hospitals, and sought to improve workhouses and change laws dealing with the poor.

The author keeps Florence’s story flowing well, and the chapters about the Crimean War are gripping, but to keep reading, readers will need to become excited by Florence’s struggle to live her own life and to bring about reform.

If you have a mature daughter who’s a crusader, she’ll find the life of Florence Nightingale an inspiration.

Reading Level: 9.4, range 7.5-10.4.   Of interest to girls.

Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-fiction, 2001

This review has been acquired and adapted from

Content Analysis:

 This review was acquired from on May 15, 2014 and was not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist.  Nevertheless, it contains useful content information which is included here.  The overall number ratings have been approximated based on this information.


Mention of passengers on mail coaches injured by various accidents; mention that aristocrats were beheaded in French Revolution; mention of people tortured for political beliefs, “flashes of violence” in Europe; mention of doctors bleeding patients or having leeches suck their blood; Florence assisted surgeons in her training; idea that women not suited to scenes of “suffering and gore”; Florence watched amputation during her training, surgeon in picture holds hack saw; in Crimean War, amputations performed without anesthetic, mention of “surgeons sawing off mangled arms and legs, . . . their patients writhing and shrieking,” mention of “gruesome operations,” “agonizing deaths”; battles described as “brutal”; one doctor liked to do amputations without anesthetic; brief description of Charge of the Light Brigade—not graphic; mention of other battles where soldiers wounded; mention that Florence witnessed “two thousand deaths” the first winter she was there; Florence became gravely ill with Crimean fever, her life feared for; mention of British commander whose arm was amputated without anesthetic at Waterloo—asked for his arm back because “a ring my wife gave me [is] on the finger”; story that Florence smashed a rat to death with her umbrella; “a quarter million men had died on the allied side alone—about a third of them in battle, and the rest from infection and disease”; Florence haunted by horrors she’s seen in Crimea; claimed in official investigation that soldiers “were being killed by the army as surely as if they were being lined up and shot”; chart shows deaths of children in a family in 1600s. 

Mention of women dying in childbirth; nurses at the time were often prostitutes, so all nurses thought of as immoral; mention of “scandalous stories of what went on between surgeons and nurses”; idea that “too much brainwork [for women] would ‘divert energy from the womb and lead to sterility’”; also, women shouldn’t see “naked body parts”; many of the sick in cholera epidemic were prostitutes; women lived in cellars of hospital in Scutari, “some of them prostitutes”; one nurse asked to join a Turk’s harem—”Florence had to explain that her nurses were not for sale”; mention of concern for “dangers of childbirth,” started “school for village midwives,” later sought to improve childbirth in hospitals, showing that mothers and infants died more often in hospitals than at home; “vile behavior” mentioned—not clear what is meant. 

Mature Subject Matter:

War, death

Alcohol / Drug Use:

 Mention of drunk drivers of coaches; nurses often drank, mentioned numerous times; mention of use of “laughing gas” as anesthetic that “makes people giddy, as if they were drunk”; use of “alcohol, opium, and herbal drugs” as anesthetics; mention of “a drunken foreman”; mention of drunk prostitutes; some nurses in Crimea got drunk; many recovering soldiers spent money on drinking; Florence wrote “a brief analysis of the causes of drunkenness among soldiers”; soldiers in India “consoled themselves with . . . drunkenness”; mention of drunkenness in workhouse infirmary; in later life, Florence needed injections of opium to deal with severe back pain. 

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

On May 15, 2014 Compass Book Ratings acquired Many reviews were acquired from and these reviews were not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist. Nevertheless, the reviews contain useful content information which is included.