Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bomb Damage

I love research. I love cool, esoteric books. I love learning.

Here's something I pondered for a long time: why did you always used to hear about people in England, back in the day, killing themselves by putting their heads in the oven (see: Sylvia Plath), but you never heard about modern Brits doing it, or any Americans ever?

Answer: before the 1960s, "gas" ovens in England were powered by coal gas, produced at local gasworks, and it contained 10% carbon monoxide. America always used natural gas, and England switched over in the 60s; as they did, suicide rates fell, because people no longer had such an easy method at hand.

Ok, macabre, but interesting.

People still die of pneumonia all the time, but recently I wanted something concrete that would make the difference in the medical care of someone with pneumonia in, say, 1936, and someone in 1940. This is ridiculously precise and I thought I'd just have to make something up, but history is my friend: the widespread use of sulfa drugs to treat pneumonia started in 1937.

Along those notes, I've just taken possession of one of the coolest books ever: The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945. It's a whole spread of the city of London--one hundred very detailed maps--as it was during World War II (the recent blitz bomb map online, which I do love, shows the city streets as they currently are, post-reconstruction), with the buildings damaged by bombs colored in with markers. Yellow means the windows got knocked out; orange is blast damage but no structural damage. Black means obliterated. Gone. You can flip through it and see how entire neighborhoods disappeared. I'm having a terrific time over here staring at teeny little street names written out long ago by hand. It's wonderfully satisfying.

You can't buy the book online in America yet, but Amazon.co.uk delivers to the States, much to my satisfaction.