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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

What listeners say about The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague

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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

49 people found this 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.

22 people found this 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.

[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]

60 people found this helpful

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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.

24 people found this helpful

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A Timely Listen

AT A GLANCE:
An excellent introduction to history's deadliest illness.

CONTENT:
This survey course starts out very generally with questions of the cause, extent and nature of the plague. She eventually moves into more specific topics like medieval medicine, the difference in national reactions, and the effects on contemporary artwork, literature and the Catholic Church. There is some over-simplification and repetition of material, though not enough to lessen its value.
The lack of course notes is painfully felt in this version and makes the information harder to retain.

NARRATOR:
Professor Armstrong is easy to listen to, conversational in tone, and intelligible even up to 1.4x playback speed.

OVERALL:
It seems fitting to listen through this course during the COVID-19 pandemic, as there are many overlapping themes and social anxieties. The lectures are generally very good and cover all of the expected areas for the subject.

8 people found this 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.

6 people found this helpful

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Excellent course

This was done very well. I appreciated some of the repetition in various areas so that I could really understand. Dorsey Armstrong was engaging and thoroughly knew her material. I didn’t care for the derision in her voice when discussing the church and perceived reactions to the plague. My preference would have been for her to continue delivering the information without that tone, since it detracted from the lesson. But all in all: very good!

5 people found this 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.

23 people found this 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.

5 people found this 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.

16 people found this 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...

4 people found this 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.

4 people found this 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

2 people found this 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.

2 people found this 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

2 people found this helpful

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  • DC
  • 03-04-21

A pandemic to learn from

Brilliant story, relevant for today. Fascinating detail of the different communities and their differing responses from humane to brutal.

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  • Jim evans
  • 03-02-21

Interesting especially in these Covid-19 times!

This series is very interesting, you can’t help make comparisons. The last two lectures are particularly good and have come to fruition with the latest plague

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-29-21

Fascinating and relevant to 2021

Maybe not most people’s choice during a pandemic, but I really enjoyed this course. The narration was delivered with enthusiasm and well paced. I will definitely be looking for other works/courses by Dorsey Armstrong.

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  • Kyle
  • 11-13-20

Absolutely recommend!

It felt like a dramatic fiction story, whilst still providing plenty of factual information. If the subject at all interests you I would certainly recommend picking this up. I could not have hoped for the subject to be covered in its totality whilst not feeling like you’re in a depressing lecture.

The narrator was engaging and clearly had a passion for the subject area, all in all I listened to it in less than a week I was so hooked.



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  • Susie
  • 09-28-20

Excellent and informative

I very much enjoyed this course. Dorsey Armstrong is an engaging writer and reader. Thankyou.

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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 people found this 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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Kriselda Burnett
  • 01-26-21

Amazing, wonderful!

I have just listened to this lecture series the 2nd time and I am still stunned by how approachable Dorsey makes the subject. Her breadth and depth of knowledge is inspiring. The different topics covered and the interesting stories as well as Dorsey's great way of presenting have made this my favourite. My second time through is almost 12 months since the start of COVID and this meant that I took away different things than the first time I heard it. Strongly and enthusiastically recommended.

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  • meiling
  • 01-25-21

well presented

I really loved it. I found it a wonderful work, capturing a critical event of history.

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