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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The London Fire: From Plague To Pyre, 13 Jan. 2003
This review is from: The Dreadful Judgement (Paperback)
This is a wonderful book. What makes it so good is that Mr. Hanson uses the actual fire as his anchor and then casts his nets in all directions. This is a wise decision, as if the entire book were devoted solely to the pyrotechnics the reader's interest would wane. Instead, Mr. Hanson starts off by telling us about a severe outbreak of the plague that struck London in 1665. We are then given some insight into the apocalyptic thinking of the time, since 1666 was uncomfortably close to the biblical 666. And, since many people suspected Charles II of Catholic sympathies, Papist plots were seen everywhere. So, though the fire probably started by accident, in the middle of the night in the bakery of Thomas Farriner, most people saw the hand of God or the hand of man as being responsible. Mr. Hanson then devotes a generous portion of the book to the mechanics of the fire- how it spread over the course of the next 3 days, helped by a steady and strong wind blowing out of the east. There is some interesting material in this section, as we see both the best and worst of human nature coming to the forefront: The Duke of York's heroic efforts in leading others in an attempt to contain the fire; and on the flip side, how people who had carts for hire charged usurious prices to move furniture and personal possessions out of the path of the fire (some even loaded up the goods and disappeared, stealing the belongings of the unfortunate victims). The book does bog down a bit in this section as Mr. Hanson goes into great detail, day by day, concerning the progress of the fire through various streets and neighborhoods- listing which buildings and churches were destroyed or survived. Only the reader with a really thorough knowledge of London would probably find this to be of much interest. However, Mr. Hanson regains his footing in the closing section as he goes into detail concerning the trial of Robert Hubert- a mentally unbalanced Frenchman who, it appears, lied about starting the fire (for motives which remain unknown). Writing about Hubert allows Mr. Hanson to explore the workings of the criminal justice system- including a particularly interesting, if gruesome, section on the perks of being the public executioner, which included (besides a fairly hefty salary): being able to auction off the nooses used to "despatch" the condemned; the sale of their shoes and clothing; fees from local taverns for making "personal appearances"; the sale of cadavers to local hospitals; and, especially ghoulish, receiving a special fee from the condemned (or from the family) for agreeing to pull on the legs of the hanging victim, so as to hasten death. Well-written, generally nicely paced, full of fascinating peripheral material, this is an excellent book- though not, as you can see, for the faint of heart!
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Location: Ogdensburg, NY USA

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