Florence Nightingale, Avenging Angel (Constable, 1998)

This was my first book about Florence Nightingale, published in 1998. It is a complete cradle-to-grave biography with a focus on the years 1854-1860. That covers the period when she was away at the Crimean War and the years afterwards when she was analysing and reflecting on the high mortality of soldiers from sickness.

When researching the book I went back to the original source material and tracked the gradual emergence of statistics of mortality in the wartime hospitals. I was working as a company troubleshooter for a large US strategy consultancy, and my data-driven approach was new. I found out how each new discovery of statistical evidence affected Nightingale’s mood and her life plans. I showed why she gave up on nursing and embarked on a long and difficult political campaign for civilian public health legislation instead.

The accessible public records (and my day job) did not then allow me to conclude that she won her battle. The ending remained ‘indeterminate’ for the time being, but the story changed Nightingale’s image (for the better, most reviewers found). The Daily Telegraph called it ‘a masterly feat of historical detective work’. You can see the reviews here.

It was not until nearly 20 years later that documents surfaced showing that she had indeed won her battle. She created the 1875 Public Health Act that, historians agree, caused a dramatic increase in national life span. Historians did not previously know who was behind the Act, and why the country had dropped its objections to state inteference in private housing. That mystery is resolved in my sequel: Florence Nightingale and her Real Legacy (Robinson, 2017).

My most recent book Florence Nightingale’s Pandemic (Knowledge Leak, 2021) shows how much the world has lost by not recognising the scientific breakthough made by Nightingale and her co-campaigners William Farr and Edwin Chadwick. The long suppression of their achievements has cost countless lives in the poorer nations, and in the richer nations suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic today. I warned that this would happen in my 1998 book, criticising the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) reliance on antibiotics to fight diseases that Nightingale made harmless by public health measures. Now the WHO admits that its overuse of antbiotics has created a major problem.