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The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague

Narrated by: Dorsey Armstrong
Length: 12 hrs and 10 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,401 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Many of us know the Black Death as a catastrophic event of the medieval world. But the Black Death was arguably the most significant event in Western history, profoundly affecting every aspect of human life, from the economic and social to the political, religious, and cultural. In its wake the plague left a world that was utterly changed, forever altering the traditional structure of European societies and forcing a rethinking of every single system of Western civilization: food production and trade, the church, political institutions, law, art, and more. In large measure, by the profundity of the changes it brought, the Black Death produced the modern world we live in today.

While the story of the Black Death is one of destruction and loss, its breathtaking scope and effects make it one of the most compelling and deeply intriguing episodes in human history. Understanding the remarkable unfolding of the plague and its aftermath provides a highly revealing window not only on the medieval world but also on the forces that brought about the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and modernity itself.

Speaking to the full magnitude of this world-changing historical moment, The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague, taught by celebrated medievalist Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University, takes you on an unforgettable excursion into the time period of the plague, its full human repercussions, and its transformative effects on European civilization. In 24 richly absorbing lectures, you'll follow the path of the epidemic in its complete trajectory across medieval Europe. Majestic in scope and remarkable in detail, this course goes to the heart of one of Western history's most catalytic and galvanizing moments, the effects of which gave us the modern world.

©2016 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2016 The Great Courses

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Average Customer Ratings

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informative, interesting, well organized

I really enjoyed the lecturer, Dr Armstrong has an enthusiasm that is infectious. her interest is supported by and informed with research.
Although I typically don't enjoy listening to the insertion of quotations and source citations she does this in an non-obstructive way.
I will definitely search for other lectures by Dr Armstrong.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Tragic & fascinating

Absolutely loved this lecture series. I can't stop recommending it to friends.
We learn so little in school about plagues - and certainly not enough about the social effects. I had no idea how much the Black Death shaped the world - not just the millions dead, but the arts, religion, social norms.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Great “great course”

I’m a mailman for the USPS and honestly listening to music gets old real fast. I’ve listened to over 70 audiobook over the last year many of them being Great Courses. This particular Great Course has me hooked from the beginning. The professor is very knowledgeable and you really get the sense she loves what she is lecturing about. I learned a lot and i hope other people who like to learn new things choose this one.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Liked Prof's presentation

Dorsey Armstrong's presentation was great. I have studied history for years years on an amateur basis and found many of my knowledge gaps filled. Now I actually know what a market town is.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Enthralling story.

By the end of the book one really does have tbe sense that we really are children of the middle ages and how important are our modern public health systems.

My next stlep will be to find what other courses TGC and Dr. Armstrong have produced.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Indeed I shall renounce the superfluous use of the word "indeed"

That is actually my only criticism of this course, and even then it's only mildly annoying and affects only portions of the story. Professor Armstrong has a great delivery. She enunciates clearly, has a good cadence, and weaves a masterful tale of intrigue, history, and science. She skillfully draws connections between events in the 14th century and traces their evolution up to modern times. She makes compelling arguments to support her connections, and she does so in a manner that is both scholarly and entertaining. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in science, sociology, religion, economics, or, of course, history.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding recount

Loved it, congratulations on excellent content, speech, structure and form.
Definitely stands out as a reference for plague history.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Great lectures - Need lecture names on track title

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, engaging and informative

What other book might you compare The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague to and why?

any of Philip Daileaders lectures on the middle ages.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Not really movie material

Any additional comments?

I love the great courses - BUT PLEASE PUT CHAPTER NAMES IN THE TRACK TITLE. I enjoy going back to specific chapters and re-listening, and not having titles, just 'Chapter 1' makes this more difficult.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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"The horseman on the white horse was plague"

You would be surprised at how many times plague comes up in every day conversation.

I finished Dorsey Armstrong, PhD’s The Great Courses “The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague” (2016) about a month ago, and I have been too busy with summer camping and hiking to finish writing the review. It’s surprisingly relevant for a disease that first appeared several centuries BCE (Before Common Era).

There it was at Kern River, where the United States Forest Service posted a notice to be careful about feeding mice and rats because they carry plague and Hantavirus. (Actually, thanks to Dr. Dorsey, I know that isn’t quite accurate: fleas that live on mice and rats that can carry plague.) The plague worked its way into a political conversation about fire and fury, death and destruction. Thanks to an earlier listen to Dr. Robert Garland’s The Great Courses “Living History: Experiencing Great Events of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds” (2015), I could compare the most significant military victories and losses from millennia ago – and discuss how the plague was a far more lethal enemy. There it was a few days ago in the news with the alarming headline, “Fleas are testing positive for the plague in parts of Arizona” ABC News, August 12, 2017). Well, of course they do – they probably always do.

Plague is fascinating and frightening in an almost atavistic way. We as humans have a collective memory and a shared horror of a time when an estimated one third to one half of the world’s population died horribly agonizing, but fairly quick deaths. Dr. Dorsey persuasively argues that there were probably three types of plague active: bubonic; septicemic; and pneumonic. She also points out that there wasn’t a single plague year or even several years: it kept recurring, spreading as ancient Greeks and Romans, and then later other Europeans traveled and traded.

Plague is endemic (meaning it’s found routinely in a certain area), but not pandemic (meaning it’s a disease prevalent in a whole country, or the world). It still scares, but it should only scare to the extent that anyone potentially exposed to plague who shows the signs and symptoms described in “The Black Death” should make sure their doctor knows. It’s treatable by antibiotics like Cipro.

I noticed that there’s a The Great Courses “Mysteries of the Microscopic World” (2011) by Dr. Bruce E. Fleury that features a lecture on the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. I think I’m going to have to try that one next.

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11 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Extremely Interesting

I liked how the spread of the plague and its social, economic and political effects were described. Worth the listen in every way.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • M J North
  • 05-14-17

great course. so much info. loved it.

the prof was entertaining and her voice helped to understand and take in the info. i love these great courses as i can study my favorite subjects in my garden instead of sitting in a cold lecture theatre. thanks for another great audio book. Mike N...

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • BudoJo
  • 08-16-16

Informative and excellent

This was very well read, with a great level of detail without being too much. I'd been looking for a history of the Black Death for a while and this was just what I was looking for.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-25-19

exceptional

great set of lectures about a subject I thought i knew alot about. but this really opens your eyes in regards to how the world reacted to such a massive outbreak

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anthony
  • 10-05-16

Valuable interdisciplinary insights to the 'black death' - plague

The 'black death' which swept Europe in the 1300s was a massive epidemic with social, economic and political ramifications. Prof Armstrong offers informative insights from a range of geographic and disciplinary perspectives.

The plague led in some places to vicious anti-semitism, in others to progress in public health and governance. It's impact on religions, commerce and art are described and explored.

Interesting in particular for a specialised readership. Some irritating repetition but I for one found it well worth the effort and time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter
  • 07-26-16

Could have been better...

To much repetition and not sufficient emphasis on Black Death's lasting impact on society and institutions

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Plamen
  • 08-23-19

A Great Overview!

Beautifully presented overview of the history of the Medieval Plague epidemic. The narration was well performed and the history well presented. Another great set of lectures! Recommended if you like the macabre part of history.

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  • D. J. Pritchard
  • 06-28-19

Brilliant analysis of the Black Death

Covering all the circumstances and implications in an extremely engaging way. The relevance to modern life is remarkable.

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  • tracy pearce
  • 06-04-19

Great !!

very enjoyable,informative great lectures my first audible book after having to travel 2-3 hrs every day I can now ditch the radio and continue to educate my mind.... On to the next one

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  • Goronwy-Wyn
  • 04-28-19

A well documented historical perspective

While this account gives the time frame for plague / the black death it's a little light on the details medical etc.

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  • Sally P
  • 04-08-19

Brilliant!

A really compelling narrative and the tutor's voice is so easy to listen to. One of my two favourite Great Courses tutors (the other is Prof M Hazen). Dorsey Armstrong delivers the news that the Black Death in many places killed 50% or more of the population then explores the many ways this shaped human experience and subsequent history and culture. I found myself reflecting on post apocalyptic and super hero fiction genres and wondering to what degree we owe these to the xhock of the plague.

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  • Ballina Beach
  • 10-08-16

Fascinating & gripping

Professor Dorsey Armstrong is one of those rare teachers & speakers who has an enormous wealth of valuable and interesting information and share it with her audience with humour, compassion and cadence. She really brought the period alive. Outstanding! I will definitely search for her other courses.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Liz
  • 09-04-17

A fantastic voyage!

Thank you, a thousand times over... I found myself transported to a time of great panic and horrible atrocities and I did come out on the other side feeling sad for those people who had to endure such a hard life, only to die themselves or watch their loved ones suffer. Although, by the end, Professor Armstrong left me with nothing but hope and respect. I am proud to be a part of the strongest and most resourceful animal to walk this earth.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-07-19

Plague reshaping the world

I had never appreciated the scale of the plague of the middle ages, but the utter devastation makes other historical events more clear. The Fire of London, emergence of Protestantism, even John Donne's Meditation XVII, not mentioned but now with new perspective of the impact of plague, make more sense. No wonder he thought he would die. Worth the time for a deeper understanding of the transition to the Renaissance & Enlightenment.

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  • Adrian Carmody
  • 06-19-19

Wonderful depth but too much repetition

This is a really amazing collection, well constructed and presented. The information is compelling, and does not get bogged down in the simple every day horrors of the period.

The biggest issue, is how often simple ideas are rehashed and recovered up to 5-6 times over the series. This can be frustrating, as in some later lectures, 10 minutes can be retreading ground that was already full explored.

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  • Shmeccles Shwifty
  • 03-08-19

Dorsey Armstrong does a marvelous job again!

Loved this, wish it was longer! Dorcey Armstrong is a wonderful lecturer and narrator. Highly reccomend this lecture.

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  • Mr Teatime
  • 01-21-19

Interesting course

Great subject. Well constructed lectures clearly delivered. But quite repetitive and a shame the material was totally read off the page rather than being discussed more conversationally. Still enjoyed it.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-14-18

highly recommend!

this course was clever, insightful but easy to engage with. I loved every lecture and could easily listen to another thirty on this subject.

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  • A
  • 08-21-18

Fascinating

The subject nis horrendous but this series of lectures was enthralling. Well presented and easy to listen to, I can't imagine a more thorough course. I'll be looking for more by this lecturer.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-19-17

The Black Death keeps in giving!

And that is at least in part one of the take away messages from this wonderful course. I'm not a medieval nut and this was very intetesting. Entertainingly read and well researched this course is worth the time and effort!

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  • Victoria
  • 06-05-17

Articulate and informative

Where does The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

An excellent course.

What did you like best about this story?

Interesting, and wide ranging content, and superb lecturer

What about Professor Dorsey Armstrong’s performance did you like?

Dorsey Armstrong is charming, and erudite and humane.