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Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe | [William Rosen]

Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe

The emperor Justinian reunified Rome's fractured empire by defeating the Goths and Vandals. At his capital in Constantinople, he built the world's most beautiful building, married the most powerful empress, and wrote the empire's most enduring legal code, seemingly restoring Rome's fortunes for the next five hundred years. Then, in the summer of 542, he encountered a flea. The ensuing outbreak of bubonic plague killed 5,000 people a day in Constantinople and nearly killed Justinian himself.
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Publisher's Summary

The emperor Justinian reunified Rome's fractured empire by defeating the Goths and Vandals who had separated Italy, Spain, and North Africa from imperial rule. At his capital in Constantinople, he built the world's most beautiful building, married the most powerful empress, and wrote the empire's most enduring legal code, seemingly restoring Rome's fortunes for the next five hundred years. Then, in the summer of 542, he encountered a flea. The ensuing outbreak of bubonic plague killed 5,000 people a day in Constantinople and nearly killed Justinian himself.

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.

What Members Say

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3.7 (246 )
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3.9 (68 )
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  •  
    Chi-Hung Riverside, CA, USA 06-29-10
    Chi-Hung Riverside, CA, USA 06-29-10 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    554
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    239
    104
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    "Better than expected"

    Although I expected a boring narrative about the plague, this is a far better than expected execution to a fairly straight forward topic, instead of a narrowed down analysis to the plague of 540 ad, the book gave us the whole contextual narrative, the after effects, the long term impact and microorganic history. I am pleased with the execution; The author has managed to make the book interesting.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ilja El Monte, CA, USA 09-12-07
    Ilja El Monte, CA, USA 09-12-07 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    9
    ratings
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    302
    7
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    "Deadly Boring"

    I love history and looked forward listening to this story. The title was intriguing. Then the reality hit me: deadly boring. The writer tries to cramp whole centuries in one story and the narrator just spouts fact, figures, names, and places in a monotonous toon. After the first 40 minutes, I tried skipping forward in the hope to reach the real flea story. Didn't happen. This is the first book, of my 240 books, that I didn't finish. Not worth my money.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    12-11-07
    12-11-07 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    21
    ratings
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    87
    2
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    Overall
    "Poor narrative"

    This book is WAY... too detailed. The narrative gets lost time and again. Some sections are incredibly boring. I think the author is just trying to show how much he knows.

    4 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ben BELLINGHAM, WA, United States 04-27-13
    Ben BELLINGHAM, WA, United States 04-27-13 Member Since 2005

    Ben ji

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Brilliant"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mrs. East Lansing, MI, United States 07-28-12
    Mrs. East Lansing, MI, United States 07-28-12 Member Since 2011
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    2
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    Story
    "Amost interesting book, but....."
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    There are those books that simply do not lend themselves to being audio books, this is one of them. Page after page after page on the internal workings of a flea and the bacterium that inhabit its stomach are actually fascinating but the information is so heavy that one need be able to flip back and review earlier pages; indeed a few bookmarks would be helpful. With an audio book this is extremely difficult.

    The hard copy of the book has several maps which are useful, something which again one loses in the audio format.

    Further, the litany of names and places that are necessary in this volume are made easier to remember, in the hard copy, through the presence of an index; without one it is easy to get lost. I found myself need to relistening to several chapters in an effort to ensure the correct placement of personages and places.

    Given the above I would not recommend this book. Read it by all means but do not listen to it.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Chestnut Hill, MA, United States 05-10-12
    Scott Chestnut Hill, MA, United States 05-10-12 Member Since 2005
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    15
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Beautifuly Read, Lots of Details"
    What made the experience of listening to Justinian's Flea the most enjoyable?

    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.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The flea!


    Which character – as performed by Barrett Whitener – was your favorite?

    I suppose Justinian's wife although Whitener does Roman generals beautifully too.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Guthery Boston, MA, USA 05-10-12
    Scott Guthery Boston, MA, USA 05-10-12 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    32
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Beautifuly Read, Lots of Details"
    What made the experience of listening to Justinian's Flea the most enjoyable?

    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.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The flea!


    Which character ??? as performed by Barrett Whitener ??? was your favorite?

    I suppose Justinian's wife although Whitener does Roman generals beautifully too.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Louise Tremblay Cole 05-18-10 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Solid and Interesting History"

    Popular history should combine scholarly detail and diverting anecdote while making it clear which is which. The book accomplishes this very well. My only quibble is that, while the author deals with the plague in historical and biological depth, it is not the major focus of the book - which is really an overview of Justinian's reign and accomplishments.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason Wiliamstown, NJ, USA 01-19-10
    Jason Wiliamstown, NJ, USA 01-19-10

    Avid history and fiction/non-fiction fan.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "In Depth"

    This is not a book about the plague, but more, a book about how the plague impacted Roman history until the empire's final end. The author gives incredible detail to the stories behind the actions which brought Y.Pestus to Roman shores. Even if the reader has only a slight knowledge of late Roman history, they will be well supported in their understanding. A good read for the history and plague buff.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pat Town 02-11-09
    Pat Town 02-11-09 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    "Ditto to Deadly Boring"

    I had a hard time getting to the end of this. Towards the middle of the second half of book two I decided life was too short to listen to the anatomy of different bacterium, etc. I have a headache.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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