In the British Medical Journal Dalrymple calls F B Smith’s Florence Nightingale: Reputation and Power “[o]ne of the great works of historical debunking”:
We all love heroes and heroines, but even more so do we enjoy the exposure of their hidden faults. I will not speculate on why this should be so: perhaps it is that, our lives being mediocre, we fear to contemplate unmitigated the heights of human accomplishment.The greater is the reputation; the more guiltily delicious is the debunking. When I was a child, Florence Nightingale was an untouchable heroine, like Elizabeth Fry. Before her, nurses were Dickens’ Mrs Gamp; after her, they were ministering angels. Soldiers were eternally kissing her shadow as she went by.….Smith chronicles her manipulations, deviousness, evasions, and lies, but he admits that, overall, she did an immense amount of good. His aim is to disabuse us of the romantic idea that people who do good must themselves be good, but let us hope that his readers do not take this as a licence actually to be bad.His explanation as to why Miss Nightingale did not destroy documentation that was unflattering to her memory is memorable:Florence Nightingale, like Mr Richard Nixon and his tapes, was so possessed of the habit of deceit and the conviction that the full record would compel posterity to vindicate all her actions, that she could not bring herself to destroy material which had become part of her identity. Having brazened out lies in life she would brazen them out in death.