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The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  146 ratings  ·  17 reviews
In the sweltering summer of 1858 the stink of sewage from the polluted Thames was so offensive that it drove Members of Parliament from the chamber of the House of Commons. Sewage generated by a population of over two million Londoners was pouring into the river and was being carried to and fro by the tides. The Times called the crisis "The Great Stink". Parliament had to ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 1st 2001 by Sutton (first published July 1st 1999)
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Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
What a great pleasure it was to learn about my hero, Joseph Bazalgette, and his astonishing achievements. The book was well set out and easy to read. I particularly liked the boxes giving short biographies of the various people involved with Bazalgette’s projects. They imparted a real flavour of the movers and shakers who peopled his incredibly able world.

Here follows a synopsis to remind me of what I read (I don’t expect anyone else to read it!) I just don’t want to forget all the wonderful thi
Ben Moore
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was initially disappointed that this book actually spends very little time focusing on the ‘Great Stink’. Rather, the ‘Great Stink’ is a small piece of the overall story.

However, the story that is presented here is fascinating. I had never heard of Sir Joseph Bazalgette and now feel it’s an absolute crime that more people haven’t.

The construction of sewers could be an extremely dull topic but the author, Stephen Halliday, does an excellent job, for the most part, of bringing it to life. Occasi
Song Medina-Babijes
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Halliday gives a clear historical account of what Thames looked like during the Victorian era--a river infested with waste and disease--and how one man changed it. The Thames river's transformation from one stinky river to one of the most admired rivers in Europe is something that the Philippines can replicate in its own water systems. Joseph Bazalgette, an engineer, put all the stops to clean Thames. His magnificent project is truly one for sustainability! ...more
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an odd book, but a worthy one. As the title suggests, it's part history of London's 19th-century sewage system, and part biography of Joseph Bazalgette, chief engineer of the sewage system. These two stories complement eachother, and the book felt loose but by no means padded. The book used to be a dissertation but is blessedly free of the usual defects of such. The author has many historical and biographical digressions, but minimal theoretical apparatus. The scholarly machinery of foot ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very interesting story of Victorian London plagued by recurring cholera epidemics and the engineering projects led by Sir Joseph Bazalgette that improved and saved the lives of countless Londoners.

Imagine living in a city where there are no sewers, human waste is disposed of in the streets, in the basements of homes, or in buried cesspools near homes. Your drinking water is taken from wells and the River Thames. Cholera epidemics come and go without warning and almost everyone believes that c
Jj Li
Dec 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This isn't a topic most people think about, but Bazalgette really does deserve a place of honor amongst the greats of early-ish Science. This book has the potential to be a momentous modern epic, but the author's style is very scholarly and academic, a bit too dry to do the topic justice as a good human drama. As an informative text and compilation of resources and research, this is excellent, though. ...more
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sanitation History

A book which gives credit where credit is due to a Great Man and Engineer, Joseph Bazalgette! He was very modest, but his work was heroic legend! He made London safe to live and work in plus improving the streets, bridges, and parks. The City of London owes a great debt to Bazalgette. A great history read!
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was surprised to find out that flush toilets were the cause of the problem. It makes sense when I think about it. Instead of carting off human waste to be used as fertilizer or whatever, as was the practice before flush toilets were invented, it was dumped into the rivers via “drains” of one type or another, leading to the great stink. An interesting read.
Steve Gross
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
A fantastically researched and produced book, with pictures and biographies. However, they seemed to have missed the lowest level - a basic map of the sewers, an explanation of what an embankment is and a map showing where they are, etc. Recommended only for professionals and London historians.
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book. Books about growing food, cooking food, even eating food are proliferate. However, less interest is taken in what happens to your dinner after it has been masticated. This book takes it title from the failure of London's "great and good" to take any interest in what happened to the contents of their chamber pots once they had been sleuced into Thames tribuatories and how hot summers began to bring them nausea inducing reminders as a tidle wave of festering sludge slopp ...more
Fabio  Amador
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
El libro exalta la figura de Sir Joseph Bazalgette por su contribución al saneamiento de la ciudad de Londres en el siglo XIX mediante la planificación, diseño y construcción de un sistema de interceptores, además de otras obras de infraestructura que fueron construidas en esa época. Resulta también interesante la descripción de las controversias asociadas a la teoría miasmática de la enfermedad que era aceptada hasta ese momento. Como ingeniero resulta inevitable senstirse inspirado por este li ...more
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
I've always been fascinated by anything concerning the history of London, including the very workings of the infrastructure. I already knew Joseph Bazalgette's story and was amazed at the task he had before him. This book added to my knowledge by giving details such as what he was up against with local authorities and the typical "not in my backyard" camp. It may be too much information for some people's taste, but people who are fascinated by the things that most take for granted- this will giv ...more
May 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Interesting; the photos and illustrations added greatly to my understanding and enjoyment.

For non-fiction books on this see: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson; The Blue Death: The Intriguing Past and Present Danger of the Water You Drink; and by Robert D. Morris

For Fiction See: The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
by Deborah Hopkinson
Jan 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book was not as intriguing as the concept. I think perhaps this might be a book that needs to be read. I listened to it as an audio book and something was lost in the translation from page to ear.
Andrew Lin
Sep 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Just finished reading this despite planning to do so for quite some time. A fascinating investigation of politics, engineering and history behind the infrastructure of a great city. Interesting to see that modern engineers still have to go through the same travails as our forebears.
Mar 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Entertaining history of the building of the London sewers, Thames embankements, & numerous streets. Sewers built greatly reduced cholera epidemics, but not for the reasons contemporaries believed - they thought that the stink directly caused the disease.
Mar 21, 2015 rated it liked it
This must be the definitive book on England's greatest engineer. Packed with detail makes it hard going at times, but your persistence is amply rewarded. ...more
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