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Editorial Reviews

Writer, merchant, and spy Daniel Defoe, now best known for Robinson Crusoe, presents a fictionalized first-person account of the Great Plague that afflicted London in 1665.

The Journal of the Plague Year: London, 1665 offers detailed, journalistic scenes of shuttered London homes and storefronts and dead bodies on the streets. In some parts of the city, infected families were quarantined as the death toll climbed toward 100,000 and a sense of paranoia and terror pervaded the city.

In an American accent, Nelson Runger serves up a crisp, steady performance of Defoe’s chronicle of a historical disaster.

Publisher's Summary

London's Great Plague of 1665 devastated the city, as Europe's final bubonic outbreak killed thousands of helpless citizens. Daniel Defoe, author of the classic Robinson Crusoe, was five years old when the Plague swept through London, and grew up hearing many stories - some truthful, others exaggerated - of its deadly effects. Blending those anecdotes with his childhood recollections and factual data from government registers, Defoe wrote this comprehensive account of what happened to London in 1665. Both a harrowing historical novel and a reliable journalistic record, Defoe recreates a living, suffering city trying to cope with an incurable, rapidly spreading disease.

Critic Reviews

"...the work stands as the most reliable and comprehensive account of the Great Plague that we possess." (Anthony Burgess)

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  • Overall
  • Qbook
  • Betterton, MD, USA
  • 01-08-05

History That Is Important Today

Although fiction, Defoe investigated the facts of the 1665 London plague and wrote this story as if from a first person perspective. As part of my research on SARS, I found this story to be very interesting. Many details are covered, from macro economic impacts to the very detailed descriptions of individuals trying to cope with the epidemic. What I got out of this book was how universal human response is to an epidemic. The very issues Defoe struggles with, such as "locking up house" were just as controversial during the SARS outbreak in Taiwan (now called quarantine).

I think Runger does a good reading job, matching his style to the content. If you like university lectures and very detailed historical information, then this book is for you. If not, you may have a hard time to stay awake.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

An eye-opening education

My wife was glued to this book, amazed by the facts. It is not a book one listens to for fun or entertainment. It is not a novel it reads more like a journal, a first hand account. It is story after story of a terrifying disease and how it not only destroys the body but the soul as well. One must have a deep interest in the plague or any plague to fully appreciate and understand the affect such a fearful ordeal will have on humanity. If this is the reason one listens to this book, then it is truly and eye-opening account and worth every minute.

Thank you Audible for including it in your book list!

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Many penetrating insights by Defoe make for fascinating listening.

I gained a much better understanding of the conditions that people of London endured during the mid 1660's. Defoe describes what was done by authorities (whether helpful or not) to contain the disease, its spread to other neighborhoods and towns, the effects on the different classes and efforts to help those in need, as well as actions (both legal and otherwise) of residents to escape both the disease and the resulting loss of freedom if you and yours were suspected of being so afflicted. Defoe's study, it is said, was the first historical novel, and was derived at least in part from a journal kept by an adult who lived through the Great Plague. Defoe himself was a small boy during the terrible year, but the terror of that year was so great that it remained in survivors for the rest of their lives. Defoe acts as an enlightened scientist would, in his vigorous effort to understand and convey ways to prevent or at least contain another plague, should one come --Fortunately, this great plague was the last scourge of its kind. Still, it brought to mind the fact that new and deadly strains of influenza could bring comparable suffering internationally in modern times--And indeed, already has, especially after World War I.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


I ordered this book because I've enjoyed other Defoe stories (Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe) and am fascinated by epidemics, but I found this story tedious. It is filled with accounts of how many people died in which parish during what week and other such details. I stuck with it for more than two hours without encountering anything that made me wish to continue.

19 of 32 people found this review helpful