In Justinian's Flea, William Rosen tells the story of history's first pandemic - a plague seven centuries before the Black Death that killed tens of millions, devastated the empires of Persia and Rome, left a path of victims from Ireland to Iraq, and opened the way for the armies of Islam. Weaving together evolutionary microbiology, economics, military strategy, ecology, and ancient and modern medicine, Rosen offers a sweeping narrative of one of the great hinge moments in history, one that will appeal to readers of John Kelly's The Great Mortality, John Barry's The Great Influenza, and Jared Diamond's Collapse.
©2007 William Rosen; (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.
74 y o avid reader using either my eyes or ears. I make earrings that I donate to shelters and while I work, I listen to wonderful books
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though it was more a history of the world from 100 CE to 600 CE than a history of the plague (as a disease), but well told and informative none the less.
If ancient history is your bag, this is for you.
The material was interesting. It provided a good overview of the Eastern Roman Empire, but seemed to lose focus in a discussion of church architecture a little before the half-way point. Then the author launched into a fascinating discussion of the causes, mechanisms, and effect of the plague.
The reader is a little flat in his presentation. It takes some getting used to, but after that it is acceptable. I enjoyed the book, but listen to the sample before buying.
Lots of information, but the authors digress constantly. The irrelevant details get in the way of understanding the big picture. Also, the audio book is poorly edited. Several sections have 10-15 seconds of repeated text. Summary: a very interesting subject, but the editor should be fired.
I've just finished listening to this book a second time. It is a most impressive exposition of the fascinatingly complex bio-psycho-socio-political events of late (Roman) antiquity. Already having a more than passing acquaintance with this historical period helps in following the author's masterful weaving of those many threads.
The narrator's monotonic delivery is absurd.
Make certain that you listen to a sample before buying. The content is detailed and very interesting, but the narrator should look into coaching. It is at times difficult to determine when a sentence ends...the reader was very off putting.
This was an interesting book, but the narration was extremely dry. I would give the text a 4 out of five, but the narration drops it down to a 3.
Picture this. In the 6th century AD, the Emperor Justinian decides to re-conquer what had been the fullest extent of the Roman Empire from his base in Constantinople. He sends an underequipped general, Belisarius, on this mission.
Through guile and tactical genius, Belisarius regains the Roman Empire beating every enemy he faces: Vandals, Goths, and Gauls. North Africa, Italy, the Levant, and parts or modern day Europe are re-conquered. This accomplished, the newly conquered empire could have been the modern colossus governed under a newly codified set of laws sponsored by Justinian.
Unfortunately, Constantinople and the rest of the empire suffer from a plague that kills 25,000.000 people (a very large percentage of the world’s population at the time) and continues to kill in subsequent years.
Immune from the plague are the isolated tribes of Arabs who come under the sway of a merchant, Mohamed, who preaches a new religion that features jihad. The newly conquered territories cannot be held by Byzantium and the effects of the plague have effectively shaped the modern world.
The book is complex and the narrator does the best he can but the story can be followed.
This is an insightful and entertaining history of the plague mixed with an insightful telling of the history of Justinian. I think of it as the unexpected intersection of biology and politics. Both are covered in fascinating and always entertaining detail. The author has clearly mastered his subject and he relates his insights with ease and wit.
This is one of those books that I mark as a must to re-listen.
First, I buy anything read by Garrett Whitener. Just listening to him read regardless of the text is a joy. As far as this particular book goes, it's all in the inifinite details. There is a theory about the large sweep of history but you have to see it yourself (although it is revealed at the end in case you didn't see it). If you don't like details this isn't the book for you. I've gone back many times to listen in particular to the chapter on the flea itself and the life cycle of the Black Plague vector. I can certainly understand that reviews of the book are binary - you like it a lot or you don't a lot. I like it a lot - a whole lot.
I suppose Justinian's wife although Whitener does Roman generals beautifully too.
If you don't like this book I recommend you look for others read by Whitener that you may like. He is the all time best reader in my opinion and he does read books of many different genre.
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