Black Death: A Personal History

John Hatcher, Author Da Capo $27.50 (318p) ISBN 978-0-306-81571-3

In an experimental narrative for an academic historian—blending some fiction with solid facts—Hatcher, of Cambridge University, offers a “literary docudrama” that looks at the lives off ordinary people during the Black Death that devastated Europe in the 1340s. Focusing on the English town of Walsham de Willows, Hatcher helps readers understand the deep terror that prevailed, including rumors of “awful omens, including rains of frogs, serpents, lizards, scorpions, and venomous beasts.” He describes the plague itself, which caused coughing up of blood, carbuncles and boils on the neck, underarm and groin, and death in a few days. Especially affecting are accounts of the psychological agonies of those who, in a deeply religious age, saw their often delirious relatives die without proper confession. Finally, Hatcher notes the socioeconomic upheaval wrought by the plague, including poor people unexpectedly inheriting land from relatives killed by the plague, and a severe labor shortage as a third of Europe’s population was wiped out.. While a glossary would have been helpful (will readers know what a “rood” of land or a “heriot” is?), this is a fine work that gives an intimate sense of the Black Death’s horrors. Maps. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2008
Release date: 06/01/2008
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Open Ebook - 335 pages - 978-0-7867-4131-1
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