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One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858

3.30  ·  Rating details ·  197 ratings  ·  44 reviews
While 1858 in London may have been noteworthy for its broiling summer months and the related stench of the sewage-filled Thames River, the year is otherwise little remembered. And yet, historian Rosemary Ashton reveals in this compelling microhistory, 1858 was marked by significant, if unrecognized, turning points. For ordinary people, and also for the rich, famous, and po ...more
Hardcover, 338 pages
Published July 18th 2017 by Yale University Press
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Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The summer of 1858 saw London experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. The state of the River Thames was dangerous to Londoners and the press had long been putting pressure on the government to do something about it. It was the summer of, ‘the Great Stink,’ when the smell from the river, and the untreated sewage polluting it, made living in the city unbearable.

This intensive look at the summer of 1858 has a large cast of characters, but concentrates mainly on three men. Charles Dicken
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Rosemary Ashton’s One Hot Summer is a fine example of what is called Microhistory, a form of historical analysis that focuses in on a very short period of time. With the advent of digitization, vast quantities of material have become easily accessible to historians for research. Thus, with much knowledge at the historian’s fingertips, readers benefit from a rather microscopic look at a short period of time.

One Hot Summer focuses primarily on what is affectionally (?) referred to as the Great Sti
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it
A book about a fairly well known year in British history. Any history of 1858 focuses on how horribly polluted the Thames was, and that the stench was so bad Members of Parliment were seen to rush from Westminster to get away from the smell. While this book goes over that, the author shows that the issues with the Thames were a springboard for many innovations that came about in the Victorian Era. While the book wasn't exactly what I was looking for when I read it on Scribd, it was still an enjo ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it
A rather boring summer in London is the subject of this rather boring book.

"One Hot Summer" is a title that has been used for numerous spicy romance novels (do check out every goodreads cover of books using the title and try not to be aroused). "One Hot Summer" is also the title of more than a few films of a stimulating nature (don't google it). Ashton seemed to try to counter all these steamy works by writing a book about a summer in which nothing happened in London.

She is doing microhistory,
Stephen Goldenberg
Sep 30, 2018 rated it liked it
A good idea for a work of popular history, taking one year and analysing events through the experiences of three major figures, Dickens, Darwin and Disraeli. In fact, it’s not so much the whole year as just the summer as the other major ‘character ‘ is ‘the big stink’ which forced parliament to at last take action at the amount of sewage pouring into the Thames.
I quite enjoyed the book but did get irritated with Ashton’s failure to stick with her chronological structure. At times, her meanderin
Melissa Symanczyk
Aug 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Micro-histories are always a bit of a challenge, even as they give the historian a chance to delve deeply into a single object, event or time (in this case, June to August of 1858). You can't assume your reader has the intimate knowledge of the subjects as you do, so you have to provide a certain amount of context, which necessarily expands the focus. I think Ashton mostly succeeds in this regard, giving us brief but necessary backgrounds on her three main figures and the Thames itself, although ...more
Listened to about a quarter of this in summer 2019. It had a bit too much detailed unfamiliar info and argument for me to want to continue listening to it as audio, and for the foreseeable future, taking the time to read this in a text format, or possibly read and listen at the same time, is not a priority for me. (I'm also really not a summer/hot weather person, which lessens its appeal for me in other seasons.) However in general I think it seemed like a good & interesting piece of history wri ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Entertaining and well-written. A detailed history as reported in the London newspapers of the events of the record hot summer of 1858, when the Thames broke out into a filthy reek.
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting information which would have benefited from a better editor.
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very different kind of history book. It goes deep in time, painting a picture of one place for one year, covering key press moments and figures. I don’t feel like I came away learning much or growing in any way, but I really enjoyed the take.
Linda J. Sandahl
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm just getting into this but so far it's fascinating. Readers of Ben Aaronovitch's marvelous Rivers of London series, which includes so much history and lore about that great city, might find this in-depth look at 1858, a year of decisive change, particularly interesting. (For one thing, it was the beginning of the great Thames Embankment and sewer tunnels that are the setting for Whispers Underground.)
The year was a turning point in the lives of several great English people, including Benjam
Peter Goodman
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli and the Great Stink of 1858,” by Rosemary Ashton (Yale, 2017). The lives of these three great men are tenuously linked to provide a thread to the story. The Great Stink was the Thames, which had become London’s open sewer and in that summer, which was extremely hot (at least one temperature over 100 F), the stench was overwhelming. Benjamin Disraeli was chancellor of the exchequer of the minority government, and during this time Parliament debated how t ...more
Deborah Siddoway
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After finishing this book in an unseasonably hot London, my mind was very much attuned to the possibility premised in this book, namely, that the oppressive, stifling heat of the summer of 1858 contributed to the actions of the three men the book explores. My interest in this book was predominantly focussed on Dickens and the way in which he unceremoniously brought to an end a marriage that had endured the birth of 10 children and the rise of Dickens's illustrious professional career as a writer ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Not quite as engaging a history book as Churchill's History of the English Speaking People, Vol I, which I finished just before I read this. This book concentrates on one year in British history, 1858. It was a phenomenal year in terms of developments in science, literature, law (particularly divorce law) and politics. Lots of familiar names appear, and famous people interact with each other in both positive and negative ways. Alfred Russell Wallace and Darwin were hard at work, Disraeli was ri ...more
Nov 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical
By no means is the three star rating an indication of the quality of writing or research in this book. On the contrary, I kept noting passages to show to my students how to handle research and analysis. The rating is purely based on my personal enjoyment of the times reported. While I enjoy Victorian literature and history, this book was more academic than I anticipated based on the title. I enjoyed the book but did not love it. Perhaps the narrow scope of time was too specialized for my persona ...more
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good book, covering London in the summer of 1858, one of the hotter summers experienced by that city in the Victorian era. That year saw major turning points in the careers of scientist Charles Darwin, writer Charles Dickens, and politician Benjamin Disraeli. It also saw major developments for Victorians as a whole, with a change in Divorce law allowing greater rights to women, the passing of legislation which stripped the East India Company of political power in India, and the development of ...more
Jul 06, 2019 rated it liked it
A really interesting snapshot of this era, through the lives of the three Ds. (Spoiler: Darwin seems lovely and Dickens is a bit of a...well, dick). I got a bit lost at times because though it's centred on the events of 1858 the author follows some stories through, or gives back histories, which of course is necessary but I got a bit confused as to when/where I was sometimes (possibly because I was listening to it as an audiobook). Also, no wonder there are more novels about blokes getting their ...more
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: womens-studies

not on the library website yet

from the interview above
On why divorce, adultery and marital discord were in the papers at the time

The previous year, 1857, Parliament had, after many years of trying, passed a divorce act which made divorce somewhat easier than it had been before. Divorce before the 1857 act was well nigh impossible unless you had a great deal of time and money on your side. And, of course for women, it was actually not possible at all. It w
Nov 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
The title is not the only stinky thing about this book, which is a total mash-up of historical events occuring in the summer of 1858 to three totally unrelated people listed in the title. The book lists itself as a "micro" history gleaned from the newspapers and communications (mostly letters) of the aforementioned people. What will we do now that the written communique is gone? I can't believe that there will be archives of email or Facebook 100 years from now for authors like Ashton to troll. ...more
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
One Hot Summer is an interesting slice of London during the particularly hot summer of 1858 when the smell deriving from the Thames was pungent enough to be remembered as the Great Stink. This work focuses on events surrounding Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Benjamin Disraeli during the summer of 1858. For Dickens, a public divorce from his wife of 20 years and a spat with Thackeray. For Darwin, physical ailments and the realization he was not the only one hypothesizing about Natural Selec ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Oct 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The scholarship and research is first rate, but this exercise in micro-focused history is so relentlessly detailed and minute that it makes for an exhausting read, as opposed to an entertaining & exhilarating read. Perhaps condensing so much into so short as space isn't quite as productive as it could be, but I will not deny that this is an incredibly informative work. I only wish reading it didn't feel like so much of a chore at times. ...more
Emily Purcell
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating account of the summer of 1858 making grand use of newly digitized newspapers as a resource. This is the long hot summer of the beginning of the modern divorce court, the year Darwin was spurred to write Origin of Species, the hottest average summer temperature in London, and the year that London had to face the fact that it would have to stop dumping untreated sewage in the Thames.
Andrea Engle
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read-2017
Examining the hot summer of 1858 in microscopic detail, the author re-creates the atmosphere of Victorian London through the news items of the day ... Led by the triad of Dickens, Disraeli, and Darwin; the Law Courts, Parliament, and the Scientific Community reach new heights during this memorable summer ... An amazing read for the Anglophile historian ...
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
Research-wise, this book deserves 5 stars but I just didn't enjoy it. The author takes one year (1858) in London and tells all the goings on. Learned several things I didn't know...that Dickens, Darwin and Disraeli knew each other and that I've actually stood on the same steps going into the National Portrait Gallery that Dickens did! ...more
Daniel Gusev
Jun 30, 2019 rated it liked it
While the name is ambitious and calling - it’s no more that a static high point through which we can peek at the high and low points of certain characters of Victorian time.

A studious research of newspapers and diaries is remarkable, yet the book lacks the core point holding all disparate live-lines together.

The putrid air of Thames is not enough.
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, non-fiction
Nothing earth shattering but an enjoyable read. I’m used to history given in large sweeps so I would have preferred a deeper follow through on the significance of some of the events of summer 1858. But then it wouldn’t be a “micro” history. Successful look inside the major news stories and gossip of London, bringing everyday events to life.
Jacqueline Williams
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
As someone who loves a historical fact book, I really enjoyed this. The 1850's are fascinating; easy to image, so close in time and yet totally different to today.
Although there was a strong story at times I was overwhelmed with facts. The researching must have been immense.
Jul 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I should've liked this one, because I'm interested in the event, time period and all of the players. Alas, the narrative storylines weren't coming together for me and I abandonned it 1/3 through. The writing just isn't engaging. ...more
Liz Dz
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time getting through this. It’s so much detail of just a few months of history. I was hoping for more details of the cleaning of the Thames but instead the river served as a background to the human element of London.
Robin Kuritzky
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Highly readable as Rosemary Ashton always is and very interesting discussion of three prominent Victorians leaving you with a thirst to know more, especially about the further career of Disraeli.
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Rosemary Ashton is Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature and an Honorary Fellow of UCL.

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