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4.4 out of 5 stars46
4.4 out of 5 stars
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2010
I can't recommend this book enough. It's not just about Edith Cavell who, I confess, I knew nothing about - just had a vague awareness of her name. Diana Souhami includes social and political details throughout, making this one of the most informative, educational books I've ever read. But you never feel like you're getting a history lesson as her style is incredibly interesting, simple and clear. I now feel like I know and understand both Edith Cavell and the period she lived in.

After reading this book it's made me want to read more by Diana Souhami.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 7 March 2013
I was given this book as a present. Edith Cavell is known locally to me as she spent part of her education in Peterborough (although only a small part) and there is mention of the car park (!!) named in her honour towards the end of the book.
The first half of the book I found fascinating as a record of the social changes that Edith lived through. Clearly the history focuses on the massive medical changes but there is also a lot of material covered alongside the details of Edith's fairly unremarkable life. It reads almost like a novel, it is engaging and has beautiful details thrown in.
There are many photographs which are included within the text which I loved rather than, as is more usual, having a clump of them every so often.
As World War One starts the second half changes style. We hear all about her resistance activities and her trial in huge amounts of detail. This appears to have been well researched but there are times when the repetition gets tiresome but it doesn't stop the overall text continuing to be compelling.
I wanted to know why she is so well known. She was brave but many others were doing the same things at the time. At the end of the book I found out.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 27 April 2014
I live in Brussels and bought a signed copy at the Brussels Book Fair. I couldn't put the book down but couldn't continue a page until I walked over to the places mentioned in the book and got a real feel for the woman. Rue de Bruxelles in the book is now called Rue Edith Cavell. I live around the corner from 154 Ave Louise where she worked as a governess and I can see the rooms where she stayed. It is also possible to see the four houses which made up her hospital and there is still a doctor's surgery opposite. My mate John said he was disturbed that I was stalking a woman who has been dead for 99 years. Read the book and you will understand. The series of letters from young soldiers to their motheres were heart breaking. This book is fantastic.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2014
Edith Cavell was someone we used to learn about at school, but in a rather vague kind of way: I knew the name and the basic story, but could never take it all that seriously. I think the monument in central London put me off: there's something about it that makes you think "oh yeah?" - something Souhami does actually analyse a bit. Also I'd assumed her execution by the Germans was unquestionably legal if perhaps unwise. I'm not even sure why I decided to purchase and read the book, but I'm glad I did. I was fascinated by all the detail about her nursing career - I knew she'd been at the London Hospital, but not that she'd kept in touch with Eva Luckes (the redoubtable matron) for the rest of her life; hadn't realised she got much of her later experience in Poor Law nursing, nor that she'd made such a huge contribution to introducing modern nursing in Belgium. By about halfway through the book I was already filled with tremendous respect for Cavell as a person. Not easy to write a biography of her, I would guess, as she was obviously such a private person and - I suppose you could say - very last century in her outlook, but I felt Souhami presents her honestly and brings her to life on her own terms. The analysis of the unfairness of the politically driven interrogation and trial is very convincing.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2012
This book goes behind the accepted portrayal of this British heroine and attempts to reveal a real person. I found the background details on her times useful and interesting. She began life as a Victorian and died as a martyr in World War 1. I found it refreshing that the reports of her during her nursing training were not all unalloyed praise, that sometimes her superiors and peers were not overly impressed by her, it makes her seem more human. To me she came over as an Everywomen, doing her best and keeping her integrity at a time when so many others were overcome by the self serving, cowardly and just self protecting side of human nature.She comes across as a women of great dignity and few words, whose work, family and pets were an abiding interest and who ended up playing a tragic role almost by accident. She did what she thought was right and that was enough to rob her of the quiet future, caring for her mother and setting up a home for retired nurses with her sister, that she had imagined. Her very ordinariness is what makes her so inspiring. She should appear on our bank notes and in citizenship classes, as a world citizen. Diana Souhami did a service to biography in retelling her story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2014
Learnt of Edith Cavell at school but the focus was always on her horrific death at the hands of the Germans never on how she came to find herself in such a perilous position.This book redresses the balance as we learn of her childhood and the reasons she chose nursing as a career.Not a saccharine character,self contained someone who expected the highest standards of her junior nurses.However the traits which could make her seem formidable and intractable were what was required when it came to her making the ultimate sacrifice.This book should be on all schools reading list if only to make children aware that Hero's and Heroines are not produced by the "kick of a football" or the winning of an Olympic medal.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2011
Souhami's book is an extremely well written account of Edith Cavell's life from childhood in Swardston to her death in Belgium and beyond. What is so unusual about the book is that it is not only a factual account but a very god read (hard to put down) this in my view puts it on par with Fraser's Cromwell Our Chief Of Men and Desmond and Moore's Darwin. The book really comes alive with the account of her trial and time in prison, Souhami makes Cavell live (become alive) through her book. I ended up feeling i knew her and how her faith lead her to live the life that she did. Read and enjoy, you may end up as i have wondering about the nature of belief and why people act as they do.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2012
If you only have time for one inspirational read, this is it. I learnt so much about the early days of nursing post-Nightingale and the exceptional contribution of those devoted women who were concerned to raise standards of nursing care in spite of such tough conditions and the absence of antibiotics.

Souhami's book is well-researched and beautifully written, transporting the reader into Cavell's world, which included growing up as a minister's daughter and receiving little education outside home in rural Suffolk, working as a governess abroad and nursing in a fever hospital. Souhami shows insightfully how Cavell's character and experiences of life led her to accept the position of matron in Brussels and to face challenges both in training and recruiting nurses there, improving conditions for patients and responding to requests for care and help during the war. Souhami's detailed account of Cavell's trial leaves one in no doubt of her unjust treatment as an Englishwoman in a war zone, lacking effective legal support, signing documents incorrectly translated and facing a court which always intended to find her guilty. The author demonstrates how her courage in facing the death sentence led to the public perception of her as a patriotic resistance heroine. Cavell's concerns in prison point towards her humility, compassion and faith as a devoted and dutiful daughter and a committed matron to the end.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2012
Edith Cavell - Nurse, martyr, heroine - and incredibly obstinate! This is a powerful read. Although the end is known from the beginning, nonetheless the tension mounts and is maintained throughout. The tight writing presents an amazing, difficult, dedicated woman of deep faith and commitment. She is in Brussels merely doing her job, as she saw it, improving patient care and nursing skills and setting up a new hospital in the desperate, suffering heart of the first World War.

Her sacrifice changed the course of this war and helped to shorten it. Dinah Souhami rightly lionizes Cavell although it never becomes a hagiography - Cavell, warts and all! This is a great though never an easy read, thoroughly recommended.
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on 24 June 2014
This timely biography provided a clear insight of a long co-mmitted nursing life. There is a lot of repetition and so not as satisfactory a read as it might have been. the sadness of Edith's execution was provoked by the cruelty and ineptitude of war. The lack of clarity of the depth and reasoning of Edith was partly the responsibility of the author but mainly arises from her lack of understanding of her background and upbringing. more could also have been given of the state of nursing at the time. In this Cavell was remarkable in her understanding of what patients needed and how she endeavoured to supply. It is sad that the bulk of her papers were destroyed for from them we would have understood the complexity of Cavell and her life and achievements.
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