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Publisher's Summary

Much of what we know about the greatest medical disaster ever, the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, is wrong. The details of the Plague etched in the minds of terrified schoolchildren – the hideous black welts, the high fever, and the final, awful end by respiratory failure – are more or less accurate. But what the Plague really was, and how it made history, remain shrouded in a haze of myths.

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

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  • Nancy
  • Vancouver, WA, United States
  • 03-08-04

Just the ticket

I enjoy books that use an interdisciplinary approach to explore a subject, such as "Salt" by Mark Kurlansky or books by Jared Diamond. This book was right up my alley; I learned a lot that piqued my interest to learn more about the Middle Ages in Europe. The reader was an enjoyable combination of cultured-sounding and conversational. The pace was just right for me to follow the details (while driving) without rolling my eyes in impatience. It was relaxing, yet stimulating.

33 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Eric
  • San bernardino, CA, United States
  • 10-02-05

Very Slanted with Errors

The author attempts to create a humorous feel in his narritive but the sarcastic and dry attempts at humor more often than not end up squewing the viewpoint so much that it jerks you out of the narrative and makes you aware of the slant that the information is being filtered through. He also makes quite a few errors. My favorite is that the medieval cross bow required two people and a half an hour to load. Overall while the information was intresting I wasn't sure what was accurate and what wasn't since I was spotting errors and spun facts all over the place. while entertaining this book was more torturing than fun.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Anne
  • Montgomery Village, MD, United States
  • 01-22-09

Don't waste time or money

Cantor's lack of perception regarding the Medieval period shines through! The "facts" that he presents are a hodge-podge of mostly old scholarship firmly entrenched in the "horrible Dark Ages" mentality. Further, the presentation of the factual material rarely breaks the surface and is more misleading than informative. Cantor's attempts at humor and shock tactics might work well in a classromm of freshmen or sophmores in a compulsory course, but provide no relief for someone choosing to read, or hear, the book.

Unfortunately, I also found the reader's voice and intonation nerve-scratching.

Read Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror" instead (I don't recommend trying to listen to it) for an informative, well researched, and well written account of the 14th century horrors (and there certainly were horrors!). John Hatcher's "The Black Death: A Personal History" presents the impact of the plague in another highly readable book. For more scholarly coverage, try Ziegler's classic, "Black Death," or Aberth's more recent "On the Brink of the Apocalypse."

31 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

I didn't think it was possible

to write a boring book about such a fascinating topic. Unfortunately, this is it. Even worse, there are occasional throwaway tidbits (apparently scientists are not really as positive about the rats, fleas, plague connection as I was led to believe in my history classes) that popped up and were then dropped. Just enough to keep me listening, but not enough to relieve my eventual frustration. With a lot of editing this might have been a decent 4 hour book.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ryan
  • Rockford, IL, USA
  • 07-16-04

Review of

There are two main problems with this work. The first and most problematic characteristic is that it actually covers very little of the plague's origins (both geographical and bio-medical), its connection between animal and humans, and its physical impact on the human body. Second, the "world" (alluded in the subtitle) consist mainly parts of southern Great Britain and the coastal regions of France. Overall, ehe work gets muddled in the detailed and dry history of British royalty rather than the plague's effect on continental Europe and peripheral regions. There work feels fragmented and mired in British ethnocentricity.

31 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Pierre
  • New Minas, NS, Canada
  • 09-23-04

Great perspective

Very thought-provoking. It's fascinating to analyze history with the perspective of the social changes wreaked by the Plague.

For instance, latin may have declined because the learned class had to assume the roles of the vanished tradesmen and forego professional careers.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Very interesting and enlightening

I'm not much on history, but this book was written in a manner which kept my attention. Knowing how the many deaths might have affected current populations is very thought provoking.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Eunice
  • Harrodsburg, KY, United States
  • 04-21-08

Great history lesson!

When buying this book, I imagined something akin to the work of Poe. A great surprise awaited, though! This book took a fascinating look at the plague from so many vantage points...political ramifications, climate changes of the era (guess they forgot to buy their carbon credits....), cultural effects. All things I'd never thought of before, and all thought provoking. A very interesting educating read.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Andrew
  • Sterling, VA, USA
  • 09-28-07

Only half way through, and wish I was done

I'm not sure which English noble beat up Mr. Cantor as a child, but Cantor is giving it back with interest. From historically flawed to downright malicious, Cantor is using the plague to point out why English nobles, the monasteries, and a few others just plain bite the big one. At his best, Cantor effectively explains how anthrax outbreaks may explain some of the devastation of the plague--concurrent epidemics. At his worst, it's a polemic determined to show you how awful the nobility of England, especially Edward III, was. If it was a book, I'd skim. His history is so skewed, that one has to wonder at the veracity of the rest.

19 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Poorly organized

I don't think the author had much of a plan when he wrote this book. The time sequence jumps forward and backward as if he thought of something new to add but didn't want to rewrite. Some of his information is incorrect, as pointed out in other reviews. Other information is identified as speculation at first but then fact later. He spends much time on opinionated historical review outside of his subject. Much material is repeated several times. In short it is neither a worthwhile guide to the plague itself nor an accurate description of the times after. I suggest "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman and "Journal of the Plague Year" by Daniel Defoe as being much more worth your time.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Hazel
  • 01-17-13

Great - a really interesting insight

The book was great. It provided insights into the black death in a lovely rambling way.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful