William CavertAug 29, 2016
The Smoke of London
Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City
Cambridge University Press 2016
Air pollution may seem to be a problem uniquely of the modern age, but in fact it is one that has bedeviled people throughout history. In his book The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge University Press, 2016), William Cavert examines how Londoners first grappled with the problem of air pollution created by the burning of coal. With concerns expressed for the dwindling supply of wood in England, Londoners in the 16th and 17th centuries increasingly turned to coal to heat their homes and power their businesses. As the amount of smoke produced by burning coal grew it prompted a variety of responses, from crown-directed efforts to prevent it from contaminating the royal space to its adoption in poems and plays as a symbol of modern urban life. As Cavert reveals, these efforts to grapple with the problem of coal smoke presaged the reaction to the much larger issue of industrial pollution throughout England during the Industrial Revolution and, in the process, framed many of these issues in ways with which people are familiar today.