4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, History, Non-fiction

Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth

4.5/5 stars

There is A LOT to discuss in this book. It makes an excellent book club book.

Like the previous two books in the series, A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times and Farewell to the East End, this book is about Jennifer Worth’s experience as a nurse-midwife in London’s East End after the Bltiz, when the area was deeply impoverished but the tough Cockney residents who had been there for generations were committed to sticking it out.

This book shows the reader the pain of tuberculosis and losing one’s children and siblings to TB, being a carrier of TB and the devastating effects of the disease. This book explores the controversial topic of abortion and shows just how complicated of an issue it is. There are many other stories of residents of the East End, stories about a way of life that no longer exists in an area that no longer exists. I am so glad that Worth took the time to write them down and preserve them.

These books are about women. Hardships women face. How strongly women love. How women are taken advantage of or abused by men. How strong women can be. How empowered women can be. How women can lift each other up or destroy each other. Although some of the subject matter in these books is difficult to read, there is a feeling of being part of a sisterhood that is so pervasive and strong and uplifting. These are very powerful books and I recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about what women’s lives were like in the 1900s in London.

4 star reviews, History, Non-fiction

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

4/5 stars

I absolutely adore the PBS series Call the Midwife. I love the simple, wholesome way of life and the way they live their faith. I love seeing how people lived in a poor London ghetto in the 1950s and 1960s. I also love it because I feel like I get a glimpse into what life was like for my parents, who were in their late teens/early twenties in the 1950s and 1960s.

I LOVED the first book in the series Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth. After reading the first book, two of my real life friends said they would be interested in reading and discussing the second two books with me.

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second book in the series. It was difficult to read and very depressing. In the nineteenth century poverty was a huge concern in England. The Act of 1834 proposed workhouses to house all of the poor – the old, the sick, the chronically ill, the mentally impaired, children, as well as able-bodied men and women who could not find work and were therefore destitute. In order to ensure that this was a “place of last resort” the Act had conditions where the workhouses should not be pleasant, husbands and wives were separated, children were separated from their parents – in many cases never to see one another again. It was inflexible and harsh. People lived in fear of the workhouse and when someone found themselves unable to feed their children and had a child starve to death, they would have no choice but to knock on the workhouse door, knowing they may never again see their children. Everyone was given a cot, a rough Army blanket, rough unflattering clothing and three meals per day, though the meals were sparse and not very good. Discipline and punishment were harsh, often abusive.

This book tells the story of several people who lived in the workhouse. Jane was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man and a servant girl. She never knew either of her parents. She had a fun spirit as a child that the workhouse master broke. It was horrifying and devastating to read. I only stayed with the book because one of my friends pointed out that if we want to make the world a better place, we need to be aware of all the facets of humanity, we can’t turn a blind eye to bad situations. Reading this with two friends definitely helped.

This book also tells the story of Peggy and Frank, an orphaned brother and sister who lived in a workhouse. A fish coster – someone who sells fish in an open-air market – comes to the workhouse to get a boy to work with him and help him and the Master of the Workhouse picks Frank. I found it fascinating to read about the life of a coster and how they go about their business. I found Frank’s story to be motivating and inspiring. The relationship between Peggy and Frank challenged by boundaries in a way similar to “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” by Brynn Greenwood and made me think, once again, that you can’t judge someone unless you walk in their shoes.

Another story was about how one of the nuns was accused of shoplifting and how that affected the convent and the community.

The final story was about a man whose father had died when he was young, in the 1800s. It told the story of what growing up poor in London in the 1800s was like and went on to show how the British military recruited poor young boys. As I read this story, I thought about how wonderful it is that Jennifer Worth wrote these books about people’s lives in a time gone by, stories that we would never know about otherwise, a way of life that is so different from how we live a century later and yet we can learn so much from how people lived in the past.

Although this book was difficult to read and depressing, I am glad that I read it. I really appreciate the two friends who read it with me. It really helped to have someone to sound off with about how upsetting things were in the story and to bring positive perspectives to light.

Book reviews, History, Non-fiction

Longitude by Dava Sobel

5/5 stars

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My husband read this book when we were on vacation on the recommendation of someone he works with and just kept talking about it, so I asked him some questions so that I could write it up and maybe get the word out that it was a great book!

Non-fiction, Informative, excellent, thought provoking

This is the true story of a carpenter that floored the world.

This book is about how longitude came to be.  In the 1700s, John Harrison, a carpenter who was the son of a carpenter was challenged himself to figure out longitude.  When the Royal Navy heard he was doing this, they commissioned his work, thus paying him for his time so that he could devote all of his energy to this endeavor.  His clocks were extremely accurate – maybe a couple of seconds off over the period of a couple of months.

He started out by making clocks.  John Harrison spent decades making clocks.  His clocks, which have wooden gears, are still around today and people spend years and a lot of money to repair them and keep them in good use.

Figuring out distance from North to South (latitude) was easy because of the setting sun.  But longitude was more difficult.  So, with the help of John Harrison’s meticulously made, extremely accurate clocks, time could be measured at one point and then how much time it took to get to the next point .

The meridian had been in Paris, France and Parisians really wanted to keep it there, but it was discovered, because of longitude, that Greenwich, England was the most accurate place for the meridian.

Captain Cook was able to map out islands and land masses because he had timepieces on his ship (he also prevented illness among his crew by feeding them fermented foods, my husband learned in this book, which just made him appreciate even more that I encourage him to eat fermented foods. haha).

One of the things that struck my husband about this book was that this guy spent days and days on very simple tasks, so different from today where we are so driven to make the next buck, crunch numbers, get ahead, meet a bottom line.  We want things fast and we don’t want to spend that much time on anything.

And that, my friends, is your history lesson for today.

I recently discovered that there is a movie for this book and I put it on hold through inter-library loan and plan to surprise my husband with it!