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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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  • Overall
  • joan
  • YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY, United States
  • 06-25-07

More history than Disease

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.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Interesting, but flat read.

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.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Just OK

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Justinian's Flea

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Wake me up!

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.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Chris
  • Willits, CA, United States
  • 07-22-07

Good, but dry

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.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Worth a listen

I'm intrigued with the theories put forh especially as it relates to parallel development in the Chinese empire.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Credible Theory That Explains Current Events

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.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Scott
  • Chestnut Hill, MA, United States
  • 05-10-12

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

A fabulous book WRECKED by a dreadful narrator

What disappointed you about Justinian's Flea?

I had read the hardback edition when it was released and I LOVED it. I just can't believe that a bad narrator can so completely wreck a book. The narrator sounds like he is impersonating George Bush Sr. And his delivery is monotone. Its an insult to the source material. I'd love the publisher to rerelease this with a different narrator.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful