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Heart and Soul: The Story of Florence Nightingale

by Gena K. Gorrell

My mental image of Florence Nightingale while I was growing up resembled that of an angelic Superwoman, flitting about in a long skirt and cape while handsome male patients gazed up at her adoringly. Biographer Gena K. Gorrell disposes of that romanticized notion as matter-of-factly as Florence herself would have done.

Nightingale’s family expected her to act like other well-bred Victorian ladies: decorative, amusing, and submissive. But the intelligent, high-spirited Florence felt driven to alleviate the suffering of the sick and poor. She revolutionized the nursing profession and health care system and wrote 200 publications on everything from hospital administration to religious philosophy. (She also once wrote a novel but declared that “writing [fiction] is only a substitute for living.”) Excerpts from Florence’s notes reveal her wit: “No man, not even a doctor, ever gives any other definition of what a nurse should be than this: ‘devoted and obedient.’ This definition would do just as well for a porter. It might even do for a horse.”

From icy battlefield to hospital floor where soldiers lay “wrapped in blankets that were stiff with blood and human waste,” Gorrell brings to life each vivid scene. Relevant historical background is woven into the text. Sidebars explain Victorian attitudes toward cleanliness, marriage, and death. Various interesting photographs, cartoons, engravings, and sketches illustrate Florence’s world. The result is a fascinating portrait of life in the 19th century.

Accessible, inspiring, and packed with unusual facts, this book will find its way into the heart and soul of many readers, both young and old.