A fire needs only three things: a spark to ignite it and fuel and oxygen to feed it. Since the autumn of 1665, a ten month drought had turned London into a tinderbox. The older parts of the city were almost entirely composed of wood-frame buildings and shanties little more than paper shacks. The riverside wharves and warehouses were stacked with wood, coal and every combustible material known to 17th century man.
The fuel was already in place. A fierce easterly gale springing up at the start of September provided the oxygen. All that was now needed was a spark. On 2 September 1666, London ignited. Over the next three days the gale blew without interruption, and the resulting firestorm destroyed the whole city.
The Dreadful Judgement is a historical detective story, meticulously researched, vividly told, which combines modern knowledge of the physics of fire, forensics and arson investigation with the moving eye-witness accounts contained in contemporary documents, private papers and personal letters. The result is a searing depiction of one of the most famous yet least understood events in history: the Great Fire of London.
'Meticulously researched, utterly fascinating.'
Simon Winchester in the New York Times
'Popular narrative history at its best, well researched, imaginatively and dramatically written ... The author marshals his story and his mass of contemporary quotation with great skill.'
Times Literary Supplement, London
'The brilliance of its narrative chapters ... a marvellous eye for evocative detail. Hanson’s prose is animated by the ferocious energy of the fire and seems to be guided by its inexorable movement. He creates the literary equivalent of the special effects in a disaster movie. The Dreadful Judgement is so compelling ... a rich mixture of imagination and research.'
Daily Telegraph, London
'He writes with knowledge and verve, as if making a television documentary on a natural disaster. He includes a gripping technical chapter on the mechanism and chemistry of combustion. This works brilliantly ... The book gains immeasurably from the author’s eye for detail and from his understanding of the beliefs and prejudices of the day ... This informative and lively account.'
Sunday Times, London
‘A heady brew of period documents, forensic science and fiction… even more compelling is the portrait of the squalid, xenophobic, superstitious city he evokes.’
Sunday Times, London
'Based on exhaustive and discerningly utilised research ... a fascinating and original read.'
The Good Book Guide, London
'A searing account of so hot a subject that you can almost smell the singeing pages.
The Lady, London
'Meticulously researched and absolutely compelling.'
What's On In London
'The best depiction of the Great Fire seen to date... He manages to describe not only the atmosphere of the event itself, but also the experience of living in seventeenth century Britain.'
Soho Independent, London
'Neil Hanson's descriptions of the inferno are like CNN reports from Kosovo.'
Camden New Journal, London.
'Blends high-class original research with a pacy narrative style that mimics fiction... Horrific subjects have served this man well and he has a knack for plugging into the dark themes that run like molten rivers beneath our social veneer.'
New Zealand Herald
'Extraordinary images abound: molten lead pours off St Paul's cathedral and runs silver in the streets; bodies burn six feet under in their graves.'
New Zealand Listener
'It's not the technical data which makes the book so riveting though. It's the flair with which Hanson invests his account with qualities usually reserved for novels - narrative drive, persuasive character sketches, vivid scene stealing.'
Sunday Star Times (New Zealand)
'A horror story, well-researched and very well told, which will make you rethink your ideas on desirable old villas and tightly packed terraced suburbs.'
Evening Post (New Zealand)
'A rollicking good yarn.'
The Age, Melbourne
'A riveting book for those that like their history with a bit of mystery.'
The Brisbane News
'Gripping, imaginative storytelling based on meticulous research.'
Gleebooks Summer Reading Guide, Australia