Author: Rosemary Ashton
Title: One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858
Narrator: Corrie James
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2017)
This historical work recounts the summer of 1858 in Great Britain, specifically London, during a time defined by unprecedented hot temperatures that exacerbated the foul stench of the polluted River Thames. The Great Stink, as it became known, motivated political action in Houses of Parliament and at the municipal level to clean up the river. Ashton’s work also focuses on the outcomes of other legislation that year such as the legalization of divorce, new regulations for credentialing medical practitioners, and changes in the treatment of the mentally ill.
The core of this book though focuses on the lives of three major figures of the era with alliterative names: Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and Benjamin Disraeli. In 1858, Darwin became aware that another scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had also devised a theory of natural selection, prompting Darwin to stop dragging his feet and begin to write and publish On the Origin of Species. Dickens, meanwhile, is in the midst of nasty split with his wife due to an affair, while also falling out with fellow writer Thackery. Disraeli is in the best position to address the Great Stink and uses his power to push through the Thames Purification Act, as well as working on other legislation such as no longer requiring Jewish MPs to swear by a Christian God.
The book is a snapshot of a single period, but it feels like a jumble that lacks a coherent theme. And the stories of the three main protagonist by necessity venture far into their lives well before and after 1858. A lot of the text reads as being gossipy, yet delivered very dryly.