In the heat of today’s quarrels over global warming, The Domestic Revolution serves as a reminder that our own era is not unique ... dense with detail, but Ms. Goodman’s exhaustive research and evident pleasure in delivering the goods are often a delight ... And Ms. Goodman is no armchair historian. She has scrubbed 'sticky smuts of coal smoke'; she has had the 'privilege' of cooking many meals in original ovens from the late medieval period. A prodigious do-it-yourselfer, she notes that she has 'gathered a great deal of practical experience in history as it was lived.' She is at home contrasting wood fires and coal flames, and her description of the 'monstrously hard work' of premodern laundry, which involved hauling copper pots with boiling water and soap or lye and beating the fabrics till clean, is enough to shame anyone who complains of modern comforts.
After a career spent studying and recreating English domestic life, from medieval times to the Victorian period, historian Goodman is uniquely qualified to uncover how a seemingly minor change in consumer choices can dramatically alter people’s lives and society as a whole. Having seen for herself the difference between running a period home fueled by wood and a coal-powered household, she makes that the springboard for an entertaining and wide-reaching investigation of how thousands of fuel-starved Londoners shifting to coal in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries set in motion a transformation of English food, homemaking, transportation networks, landscapes, and industry, all of which, in turn, shaped the modern world. Goodman uses vivid historical anecdotes and personal experience to explain how the changes unfolded, step by step ... This immensely readable study makes a clear and convincing case for overlooked aspects of the significance of home life.
While her explanations of subjects such as tree coppicing and coal transport may delve a bit too deep for casual readers, her lively treatment of how the shift to coal affected multiple facets of English life and her drily humorous personal anecdotes make this an interesting and enjoyable read overall. The book includes helpful illustrations to add context ... A fascinating, fun view of how far-reaching changes resulted from choices in household fuel. This will be particularly valuable for those interested in the unwritten history of domestic labor and 'women’s work.'