Norman Cantor, the premier historian of the Middle Ages, draws together the most recent scientific discoveries and groundbreaking historical research to pierce the mist and tell the story of the Black Death afresh, as a gripping, intimate narrative.
© 2001 Norman F. Cantor; (P) 2003 Recorded Books
trying to see the world with my ears
This is not really all about the plague, but uses that event as a starting pint to spin narratives about the century before and after the 1348-49 pestilence.
I had thought that Cantor would be difficult, but this was accessible, even entertaining (if you like late medieval social history). I preferred it to novels about the era, most of which are written in worse prose. If your primary listening interest is literature, this book can help establish the background for novels. If you are a fan of Brit Lit written or set in later periods, you will learn, for example, details of how and why all those estates became "entailed."
Cantor starts with facts from records -- inventories, litigation, occasionally art and literature -- to spin interlocking narratives. He occasionally tries to enter the mentality of the different classes. He mixes well-known names of the time with educated hunches about the life of the unremembered masses.
As a reviewer below notes, this method can be circular. The same style is used in "The Lodger Shakespeare," for example. I agree that the Tuckman book mentioned in the review below is more comprehensive, but the Tuchman and Cantor books are of much different length and intents, I think.
Cantor also includes a pre-SARS wake up call to danger of infectious disease in global village.
The narrator sounds like a late middle-aged, charming, slightly corny university prof-- and that's how I imagine Cantor.
I really enjoyed this audio book. Great content. Great narrator. Narrator is perfect.
Some of the negative comments I read were:
1) Skewed negative skew on part of author, making the dark ages out to be all bad, evil, backward and generally horrible.
2) Made out all lords and church officials out to be greedy, murderous villains and the root of all evil.
3) Incoherent book structure, dry presentation and cherry picked fact, and incomplete narrative of the black death because origin is not sufficiently covered.
I am not a expert of the Dark Ages but I have read SEVERAL books on plagues and epidemics including the black death. This was the best book I have read so far. The mysterious inconsistency of the recorded history of the black death was well explained here. The current leading theories the explained, symptom, time lines, outbreaks and environments were described/explained effectively, and researchers and historians and historical records were referenced. Through the whole book, records from the time are referenced. I found the entire book to be well referenced, well explained, effectively presented and believable. Sections were separated by population class, and had a timeline through and after the many waves of plague. For example, gentry, peasants and church officials had their own sections on how they were effected during and after the plague. I found this presentation effective, easy to follow, and in my opinion, this format was by far the best choice.
As for those complaining about the negative portrayal of the Dark Ages, well, uh, it is called the Dark Ages for a reason. People were greedy, racist, and locked into a class system that left many people stuck in poverty and servitude through the generations. Jews were blames for the plague and burned. People were tortured routinely. Officials were bribed. The medical/scientific people were ineffective against the plague and believed the plague was caused by sin, witchcraft, Jews poisoning, "bad humor"ect. But, even so, the author gives examples of educated female intellectuals, generous lords taking care of their surfs, providing churches, mills, and such, churches having female preachers and leaders. I'm not sure what some readers expected, chivalry, noble knights, fairytales and robinhood heroes? But, the Dark Ages certainly wasn't all white knights and gentile lords and ladies, but neither does the author portray all people and everything as horrible evil darkness.
As for the complaints about lack of focus on the origins of the black death, the author DOES address/explain it effectively and thoroughly. But, the title of the book is "The Wake" of the black death, meaning AFTER the black death, and so this is the focus of the book, which I found fascinating. There is many details and examples given that illustrate the times and effects of the black death perfectly.
I highly recommend this book. It appears to be well researched and referenced. It is well laid out and conveys its content extremely well. This, coupled with a talented narrator, made for an enjoyable as well as educational listen.
this is a lively and quick listen for facts about the bubonic plague. It is skewed towards the social impacts of the plague, as opposed to the medical approach..
First, the narrator is not Bill Wallace, it is John McDonough (sounds like). Second, the production is very bad because we hear phlegmy inhalations, gulps and other distracting (to me!) sounds. I just winced through much of it and missed the narration so had to go back and listen again. ugh! really, no excuse for this in a professional audio recording. Wish I had known before I bought it.
I enjoy Professor Cantor's books very much and this is another fine work. He chooses several threads and follows them through his, and others, interpretations of how The Plague had an impact on many social conditions, political fortunes, the arts, and religion. It is not a study of biomedical detail or scientific exploration.
I can recommend the book for a general survey of ideas about some of the effects of the plague on the western world, but not the production of this audiobook. I must be overly sensitive to these kind of "noises" as I don't see anyone else mentioning it, but yuck.
Online Grad Student, I prefer audiobooks to bound books. Preferences: history, disasters, Preston/Child, Lee Child
Well written examination of the Black Plague, and its effect on world history, gender relations, class divisions, and changes in labor, religious, and monarchical power. Also examines the origins of the bacteria, the fear of Jews and Muslims, and the rise of European empires thanks to the plague. Well narrated by the granfatherly Bill Wallace. Other audiobooks he's narrated fall flat, but he does well with historical, nonfiction subjects
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