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Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  298 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Florence Nightingale was for a time the most famous woman in Britain–if not the world. We know her today primarily as a saintly character, perhaps as a heroic reformer of Britain’s health-care system. The reality is more involved and far more fascinating. In an utterly beguiling narrative that reads like the best Victorian fiction, acclaimed author Gillian Gill tells the s ...more
Paperback, Trade Paperback edition, 544 pages
Published September 13th 2005 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 31, 2007 Sariah rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
Excellent biography of Florence Nightingale, her family, and the times they lived in. Learned several things about Nightingale that I never knew before; for example she saw her nursing as a divine mission from God.
Sep 26, 2007 Weinz rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Love loved it. I love WEN. For a Eurpean Victorian man, he went against what was expected and where society led him. He taught his daughters, not only taught them but thoroughly instructed them in law, Greek, Latin and extensive history. When society mores taught him to view his daughters as lesser humans he maintained their individualism and independence. He gave Florence a salary and let her live away from home. Unheard of at that time. FN was who she was because of him.
Jun 20, 2009 Emily rated it it was amazing
No nurse's historical background is complete without reading about Florence Nightingale. I personally didn't know much about her, just that she was considered the founder of nursing, and that she was known as the Lady with the Lamp.

The book begins with a detailed genealogy of Flo's parents and their families... which seemed boring to me but does have relevance later in Flo's life. One of the major familial themes has to do with the inheritance law in Great Britain at the time - since women coul
Jan 16, 2008 Christine rated it really liked it
The best part of this book was the depth with which the author explored Nightingale's upbringing and family. It really brought together a complete picture of the woman and her life/mission. Florence Nightingale is way more than just "that famous nurse." She was really a person both of and ahead of her time, and if that sounds like a contradiction, Gillian Gill does an excellent job of illuminating just how it happened. My only complaint--the author really loves her thesaurus! I have a relatively ...more
Feb 11, 2008 Allison rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's an interesting look at Florence Nightingale, her family, and her era. The only problem was there was way too much detail and it was easy at times to get bogged down. A good edit would have made it more interesting.
It really was fascinating. Well, at least the first third was. I couldn't get through it, I just couldn't. And after not reading it for book club after a month and a half, after all my extensions at the library had worn out, I decided just to take it back and maybe try again another time. It really was a fascinating read, so well researched and incredibly well-written, just not real engrossing. Next time. Next time I'll pick it up and get through it. Next time.
Jun 20, 2016 Tania rated it it was ok
Couldn't finish it. Gave up half way. It really is more for researchers. Too many names. No chart in the back to help you keep track of the family tree. No maps. It became too tedious and bogged down in detail. Too bed because the subject was interesting.
Bookmarks Magazine

"Through the facts [Nightingale] always saw lives," writes Gill, author of books on Agatha Christie and Mary Baker Eddy. Such is also true of Gill, who abandons historical speculation in favor of fastidious reliance on diaries and letters from Nightingale's family, friends, and colleagues. Although one of many existing biographies, Nightingales is one of the first to thoroughly examine the relationship between her public and private life. Besides vividly evoking Austenesque mores, Gill creates f

May 16, 2010 Lizzie rated it it was amazing
A terrific biography of Florence Nightingale and her family, from a feminist perspective. It’s the kind of detailed biography I love, with little side trips into politics of the day, family history, and military detail.
At the age of 17 FN had a religious experience that convinced her she was to have a life of service to God. From that point, she sought to be trained as a nurse or in the administration of an institution like a hospital.
As one would expect, her upper middle class family tried to
Mar 26, 2010 Whitney rated it really liked it
Quite a compellingly-written book about not only the eccentric and formidable Florence Nightingale but her oftentimes conflicted but tightly-knit relationship with her family. Ms. Gill dissects Florence's family life and its impact on her development as thoughtfully as any careful researcher but throughout the book you can tell that in spite of Florence's very human deficiencies Gill honestly likes Florence -- and her family. She appreciates Florence's cutting wit, admires her implacable drive a ...more
Oct 22, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing
I cannot tell you how suprised I am to have liked this as much as I did. Before picking up this book, I had little knowledge and less interest in the saintly nursing pioneer and got the book only because I had enjoyed another Victorian-era biography by the author, Gillian Gill (We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rules, Partners, Rivals). As it turns out, Nightingale is actually an incredibly fascinating figure--brilliant, highly cultured, moody, wildly charismatic, fiercely ambitious, and just crazy e ...more
Jan 19, 2010 Betsy rated it it was amazing
An excellent read about a fascinating person. Other reviews describe this book as a "novelistic biography," which I found to be true. It's very readable, and provides well-researched information as well as clearly identified interpretations or theories about Nightingale and her life. The abundant details about Nightingale and her family provide a strong sense for the person she really was--driven, competent, charismatic, conflicted, and complex. A highly recommended read.
Feb 24, 2010 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-books
Very interesting biography. Never knew much about her or her family, so it was great. Took a while to get through... her family's situations read like a Jane Austen novel! Enjoyed reading how she believed that God had called her to her work. The work she did at that time in history was extremely edgy. She was truly an early feminist (in a good way!)
Anna Andersen
Jun 22, 2010 Anna Andersen rated it it was ok
Probably the thickest book i ever read... i loved this story because you learned of a wealthy family and how they lived and the small faith that grows within Florence and the simple love she has... being all alone through her life and how she deals with it.. was a good book that took me a while but glad i read it.
Jul 23, 2012 Deodand rated it it was amazing
I'm glad Gill made her approach from the angle of Nightingale's private life. We have enough bold-faced stories about her famous subject, now let's hear what was happening from Nightingale's own pen and the pens of those she loved.

Make no mistake, there is plenty of interesting material here. I was never interested in Nightingale as a biographical subject until I read some of Elizabeth Gaskell's work (she was Nightingale's contemporary). I found myself moved by what happened to Nightingale durin
Aug 23, 2010 Emma rated it it was amazing
I read this while I was waiting for Gill's other book, We Two, to come to my library. Another really detailed account of life in the nineteenth century. I really enjoyed learning about the then-medical establishment's growth in terms of infectious disease treatments. Also the info about Florence Nightingale's big family said a lot about Victorian society.
Oct 11, 2010 Jocie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I was looking for an in-depth view of Miss Nightingale's upbringing and education. Got little snitches of it, but this book focuses mostly on relationships and psychological effects.

Presented a more just view of her mother and sister, I felt.

She had a harsh governess and was away from her parents a good deal for about 2 1/2 years before age 10. She felt from a young age she was different, in a bad way, and was afraid of making mistakes in front of people.

Wanted to impress her parents. Did not fe
Jan 27, 2011 Marisa rated it really liked it
I read this book after Gillian Gill's excellent "We Two" (the story of Victoria and Albert). And I was not disappointed. Gill mines a tremendous amount of correspondence to inform her writing, but the book is never dull. A wonderful biography of a woman who played such a major role in the development of our modern health care system, at a time when women were not encouraged to be leaders.
Nov 25, 2013 Erin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I barely made it through the Introduction. I really wanted to read about Florence Nightingale, but I am sure there must be a better biography than this one!

The author's writing style was just God-awful! The author could not make a point without re-iterating and re-iterating and re-iterating... "No lady in the land could vote like her husband, enter Parliament like her father, join the India Office like her brother, preach from the pulpit like her nephew, or serve as justice of the peace like th
Christina Dudley
Jul 21, 2011 Christina Dudley rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book a lot! If you're into the 19th century, the Nightingales are so well-connected that this book reads like a who's who. In the family tree, you can even figure out how Helena Bonham Carter is related to Florence Nightingale! Gill paints a lively, sympathetic picture of the often dysfunctional family. Loved her pacing and touches of humor. Is it worse to be a living legend or the sister/father/mother/cousin/niece of a living legend? The scenes in the Crimea are not for the faint ...more
Oct 02, 2011 Trina rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up-on-it
I wish I could say I read this. I just couldn't do it. I thought it was a biography - it's not. The author clearly says so in the prologue. Despite that I decided to push forward. It is an abundance of information about the people in Nightingales life, her family. Included are some peripheral members of the family as well as some significant friends. ... if you think my review is boring...
Martha Tomhave
May 09, 2014 Martha Tomhave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First rate biography of Florence Nightingale and her amazing family, all of whom were interesting - eccentrics, knew everyone, politically active - and the author is a figure in the story as well, as she shares her takes on the Nightingales. Gill has also written a great book on Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science. Intelligent, well written and rather quirky biographies are Gill's specialty. I highly recommend everything she has written. her books are quite long, but compelling - I re ...more
Mar 29, 2013 Michele rated it liked it
Shelves: books-of-2013
A flurry of facts and facets about Florence.

"Florence in particular, from an astonishingly early age, seems to have been writing for an audience." pg 81

I would love to know what happened to Felicetta Sensi. The fact that Florence got her enrolled in school and payed for her education out of her dress money really tell you what an amazing Christian lady Florence was.

Truly astonishing, to see the understanding Florence had of epidemilology before she even knew what a germ was. pg.334

An organized w
Sarah Boshear
Jan 06, 2014 Sarah Boshear rated it liked it
I thought this was a good biography, though not a perfect one..

First of all, pay attention to that subtitle. Gill focuses heavily on Nightingale's parents, her childhood, and her young adulthood. Out of 21 chapters, we don't reach the Crimea until chapter 15. Once we leave the Crimea, less that fifty pages (two chapters) are given to the second half of Nightingale's life from 1856 to 1910: the decades of her incredible writing campaigns and her ambitious programs of reform. Once Nightingale wins
Andrea Eckelman
While I learned so much, this book was heavy on extraneous details. This is clearly an author who knows her stuff, but I felt like she became bogged down in surrounding events and stories in a way that detracted from Florence's story. That being said, it was a fascinating portrait of a fascinating woman, and I loved learning about Florence Nightingale's world.
Jun 26, 2014 Georgina rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-2014
the end was a bit ubrupt, but over all a very interesting read. It does indeed focus more on her early life, but I think it was fascinating, and would probably take a second volume to capture the second half of her life to the same depth.
May 09, 2015 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This book emphasizes Florence Nightingale's remarkable family and her upbringing. Ms Gill starts with information on her great grandparents and continues with the succeeding generations.I don't mean that as a criticism. the whole family is interesting.

Ms Gill says repeatedly that Florence's parents were very progressive in their child rearing methods. However her mother clearly punished and pressured Florence to become a little version of herself. It is my impression that this treatment did her
Florence Millo
Jun 02, 2014 Florence Millo rated it really liked it
Nightingales by Gillian Gill

This very well researched and documented biography of Florence Nightingale gives the reader an intimate look into the family, the culture, and the times that shaped the life and character of Florence Nightingale. The author pulls extensively from the voluminous correspondence to and from Miss Nightingale to give a fuller, richer portrait of the "Lady with the Lamp." The severe restrictions on Victorian women, the entail of the family estate, and a call from God to ser
Aug 21, 2014 Annette rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 10, 2015 Katharine rated it really liked it
4 1/2 stars. A splendid deconstruction of Florence's complex character and a vivid rendering of the times in which she lived, but the author's occasional overly opinionated/crass insinuations about Florence and other personages personality quirks and/or private lives keep me from giving this a full five stars.
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Gillian Gill, who holds a PhD in modern French literature from Cambridge University, has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale, Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries, and Mary Baker Eddy. She lives in suburban Boston.
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