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

Liveright: Norton. Oct. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781631497636. $27.95. HIST
What happens when you switch from a wood fire to a coal-fueled one? Social historian Goodman’s (How to Be a Tudor; How to Be a Victorian) new book shows that the difference between the two is so marked that revolution is an apt word to describe England’s 17th-century change in household fuel. Drawing on historical sources and hands-on experience, Goodman provides a thorough account of when and why the swap from wood to coal occurred and how it permanently altered the English landscape (old forms of land management disappeared); foods and recipes of choice (porridge was out, toast was in); and the design, decoration, and cleaning of homes. 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.
VERDICT 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.”
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