The Domestic Revolution: How the Introduction of Coal into Our Homes Changed Everything

Ruth Goodman. Liveright, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63149-763-6
Historian Goodman (How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England) delivers an immersive account of how England’s switch from wood to coal as a primary fuel source sparked massive social change. Between 1570 and 1600, Goodman writes, “a single generation or two of Londoners,” many of them women “operating primarily within the domestic sphere,” made the change primarily for economic reasons. She draws on recipe collections, property surveys, household accounts, and probate inventories to highlight coal’s impact, noting, for instance, changes in the landscape as landowners, considering trees and shrubs less essential, converted heaths and wooded pastures to cropland. Chimneys and smoke-free upstairs rooms accelerated changes to the home, as did gridirons, grates, and cast-iron pots that could handle the higher temperatures coal produced. Rising demand for these domestic products spurred technological innovations that helped pave the way for the Industrial Revolution, Goodman writes. She also describes changes in British cuisine (boiled and baked dishes replaced thick medieval porridges) and the rise of soap and new cleaning standards to deal with sticky, soot-smudged interiors. A consistently witty and knowledgeable narrator, Goodman reveals in this highly informative study how small decisions made by ordinary people can change history. Agent: Lesley O’Mara, Michael O’Mara Books (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 08/11/2020
Release date: 10/20/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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