Tuesday, October 24, 2017

CYBILS NOMINATION SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef


Most people know Florence Nightingale was a compassionate and legendary nurse, but they don’t know her full story. This riveting biography explores the exceptional life of a woman who defied the stifling conventions of Victorian society to pursue what was considered an undesirable vocation. She is best known for her work during the Crimean War, when she vastly improved gruesome and deadly conditions and made nightly rounds to visit patients, becoming known around the world as the Lady with the Lamp. Her tireless and inspiring work continued after the war, and her modern methods in nursing became the defining standards still used today. Includes notes, bibliography, and index.


 One of the things that I've always admired about biography writers is the skill they demonstrate in choosing what to share with their readers.  Naturally some writers are better at this than others, and it does relate to the purpose and sense of fairness of the author him/herself.  I prefer biographies that show the person in all their humanness, the good and the bad, the remarkable and the ordinary.  For me it is almost more impressive when the subject manages to do remarkable things despite their own weaknesses and struggles.

Florence Nightingale is one of those people who's become rather a legend over the years.  Stories of her walking the halls of a hospital with a lamp during the Crimean War are easy to come by.  But how accurate are they?  Catherine Reef does a great job of sharing Nightingale's real life experiences and how she ended up in those hospital halls as well as the reasons she became such a legend in the first place.  I appreciated Reef's efforts to show Florence's background and reasons for getting involved in nursing in the first place.  Her beliefs and family life are presented as fairly as I think it could be done.  I found it fascinating to read about the deep family opposition Florence experienced in her efforts to be more than just a noble lady.  Her desires to serve God and make a difference in the world lead to serious conflict with her parents and sister for a variety of reasons.

What made this especially interesting to read was the accounts of the strides that Florence spent her life seeking and the lives that were changed as a result.  Unfortunately for Florence, she didn't return from the Crimea in prime health and spent the rest of her life in and out of bed.  But even when she was confined she didn't stop advocating for better nursing care, especially for  military personnel.  While Florence did plenty of toe-stepping and ally pushing, it was impossible not to cheer her efforts after reading about the horrible conditions that were often the norm at the time.  Despite her weaknesses, Nightingale was in a number of ways a woman ahead of her time, and the world can be grateful that she was.

1 comment:

  1. There are some interesting picture book biographies of Florence Nightingale, but they always seem somehow truncated. Like she really needs to be told about in a longer format. Glad to see this!


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