Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
on 15 September 2012
Sadly, I'm somewhat out of tune with the other reviewers of this book. While there is no doubting the research and scholarship that has gone into this, I found there was so much detail to wade through that the many interesting facts were somewhat lost.
As the book progressed, I found that I was skimming over the lists of rescued paintings, the minutely described architectural details and the many, many names of people who played bit parts in this momentous event. For example, when talking about the many injuries that resulted to people who were in one way or another fighting the fire, the author says 'Labourers and mechanics hurt included George Simmons (broken thigh when run over by an engine), John Hay (dislocated shoulder) John Slater (dislocated shoulder and hot lead burns)...' etc etc. In fact, a total of 14 people and their injuries are named in this list, which is only one of many such lists.
Where the book is more interesting is when the author gives us some information about the society of the time. We get a good picture of how the House of Commons worked at that time - the cramped conditions and the bear-pit atmosphere of the big debates surrounding the recently passed Reform Acts. Shenton describes the newly formed fire-fighting authority, telling us how it developed out of the many private outfits run by the insurance companies. Again though she goes into so much detail as to where the various fire engines were placed on the night and where the water pumps were located that the, to me, more interesting information about the structure and management of the new authority gets a little swamped in the sheer weight of facts.
Overall, the book did give me some insight into what it must have been like for the participants and residents on that night but I found it hard-going and struggled to keep my interest alive to the end.