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The Smoke of London
Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City

$110.00 (C)

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History

  • Date Published: April 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107073005

$ 110.00 (C)

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About the Authors
  • The Smoke of London uncovers the origins of urban air pollution, two centuries before the industrial revolution. By 1600, London was a fossil-fuelled city, its high-sulfur coal a basic necessity for the poor and a source of cheap energy for its growing manufacturing sector. The resulting smoke was found ugly and dangerous throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, leading to challenges in court, suppression by the crown, doctors' attempts to understand the nature of good air, increasing suburbanization, and changing representations of urban life in poetry and on the London stage. Neither a celebratory account of proto-environmentalism nor a declensionist narrative of degradation, The Smoke of London recovers the seriousness of pre-modern environmental concerns even as it explains their limits and failures. Ultimately, Londoners learned to live with their dirty air, an accommodation that reframes the modern process of urbanization and industrial pollution, both in Britain and beyond.

    • Describes early modern understandings of environmental pollution, transcending scholarly consensus that only industrialized modernity has prompted any kind of environmentalism
    • Offers a more rounded account of environmentalism that recovers pre-modern environmental concern and yet also explains its limits and failures
    • Places ideas and events firmly within their early modern context, but also shows the legacy they left to modern Britain and to the rest of the industrializing world
    Read more


    • Winner, 2017 Whitfield Prize, Royal Historical Society

    Reviews & endorsements

    'The Smoke of London takes its inspiration from environmental history to make a powerful contribution to our understanding of debates in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England about urbanisation, economic growth, and its environmental consequences … [The book] does forcibly show that debates about urban pollution long predate the nineteenth century and offers a fascinating window onto environmental attitudes in early modern England. Cavert's book is, then, a wide-ranging, nuanced, and thoughtful contribution to environmental, urban, and English history.' Robert J. Mayhew, Journal of Historical Geography

    'The Smoke of London will no doubt find undergraduate as well as specialist readers: it is snappily written, meticulously and helpfully footnoted and tackles historiographical debates in a range of fields with admirable clarity. A memorable anecdote frames each chapter, and gives a window into the breadth of research that sits behind the book’s key arguments. Sensitive readings of literary sources are placed in a robust economic framework. Carefully explained statistics sit alongside weird and wonderful cases from the royal courts, in a potent blend of political, scientific, economic, industrial and social history, all under the ‘environmental’ umbrella. It is a brilliant book that deserves to be widely read.' Andy Burn, Urban History

    'An erudite study of the environmental price paid by the growth of early modern London, which looks to be repeated in present-day Beijing.' Gillian Tindall, History Today

    'William Cavert has written an engrossing, readable, and authoritative study of a significant episode in the history of the urban environment, one with important lessons for today.' Christine L. Corton, Renaissance Quarterly

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2016
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107073005
    • length: 296 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 163 x 20 mm
    • weight: 1.62kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Prologue: the smoke of London
    Part I. Transformations:
    1. The early modernity of London
    2. Fires: London's turn to coal, 1575–1775
    3. Airs: smoke and pollution, 1600–1775
    Part II. Contestations:
    4. Royal spaces: palaces and brewhouses, 1575–1640
    5. Nuisance and neighbours
    6. Smoke in the scientific revolution
    Part III. Fueling Leviathan:
    7. The moral economy of fuel: coal, poverty, and necessity
    8. Fueling improvement: development, navigation, and revenue
    9. Regulations: policing markets and suppliers
    10. Protections: the wartime coal trade
    Part IV. Accommodations:
    11. Evelyn's place: fumifugium and the royal retreat from urban smoke
    12. Representations: coal smoke as urban life
    13. Movements: avoiding the smoky city

  • Author

    William M. Cavert, University of St Thomas, Minnesota
    William M. Cavert is a historian of early modern Britain focusing on urban and environmental history, holding a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Illinois. He has published 'The Environmental Policy of Charles I: Coal Smoke and the English Monarchy, 1624–1640' in the Journal of British Studies, as well as related studies in Global Environment and Urban History. His work has been supported by grants from The Mellon Foundation, the Huntington Library, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, Northwestern University, the University of Cambridge, and the University of St Thomas, Minnesota, and by a fellowship at Clare College, Cambridge. His current research examines Britain during the Little Ice Age, focusing on cold winters, disasters, and relationships with animals.


    • Winner, 2017 Whitfield Prize, Royal Historical Society
    • Winner, 2017 Turku Book Award, Environmental Society for European History and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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