THE GREAT MORTALITY: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time

John Kelly, Author . HarperCollins $25.95 (364p) ISBN 978-0-06-000692-1

The Black Death raced across Europe from the 1340s to the early 1350s, killing a third of the population. Drawing on recent research as well as firsthand accounts, veteran author Kelly (Three on the Edge, etc.) describes how infected rats, brought by Genoese trading ships returning from the East and docked in Sicily, carried fleas that spread the disease when they bit humans. Two types of plague seem to have predominated: bubonic plague, characterized by swollen lymph nodes and the bubo, a type of boil; and pneumonic plague, characterized by lung infection and spitting blood. Those stricken with plague died quickly. Survivors often attempted to flee, but the plague was so widespread that there was virtually no escape from infection. Kelly recounts the varied reactions to the plague. The citizens of Venice, for example, forged a civic response to the crisis, while Avignon fell apart. The author details the emergence of Flagellants, unruly gangs who believed the plague was a punishment from God and roamed the countryside flogging themselves as a penance. Rounding up and burning Jews, whom they blamed for the plague, the Flagellants also sparked widespread anti-Semitism. This is an excellent overview, accessible and engrossing. Agent, Ellen Levine. (Feb. 1)

Reviewed on: 01/17/2005
Release date: 02/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 364 pages - 978-0-06-000693-8
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