History in Review
The Great Plague
By Stephen Porter. (Sutton Pub Ltd, 2000.) ISBN: 0-7509-1615-X
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - March 31, 2002
The Black Death was no stranger to England when it arrived in 1665. For hundreds of years, the Black Death, a euphemism for Bubonic Plague (Yersinia pestis), had terrorized England leaving barely a generation unscathed. The plague epidemic of 1665-66 was devastating. In London, over 100, 000 people died, which represented 1/5 of the city's populations. In some communities the death toll was proportionally much higher. For example, half the residents of Colchester died from the plague.
The Black Death not only decimated the population, but it also altered societal norms. Dying from the plague was not pleasant and most people who contracted the plague died. At the time, no one knew how the plague was spread, and many left loved ones to die alone out of fear of catching the plague from them. In some communities, family members were not given a choice whether they wanted to stay or go. Houses were often sealed up, or guards placed around the house to keep anyone from leaving, when a case of plague was suspected. As a result, those unaffected were imprisoned with the sick, and often faced the prospect of starving to death if they were not supplied with food from outside sources. Worse, the massive social upheaval caused by the fear and horrific death toll, often allowed brigands and other antisocial elements to have free reign to torment the stricken population, simply because there was no one around to stop them.
In The Great Plague, Stephen Porter presents a clear and fascinating account of the Great Plague epidemic of 1665-66 and the effect that it had on English society. He chronicles previous visits of the plague, and how the residents of England used mortality figures to help determine when a new epidemic had started. On a side note, he also explains why the number of plague deaths was under reported. Not only does Porter detail the human toll that the plague exacted, but he also looks at the economic and political impact that it had on the country. To complete the picture, Porter explores how the country recovered from this epidemic, and how it affected English demographics.
Porter writes with a fluid, but reserved prose. The topic that he has elected to write about is on the morbid side, but is nonetheless, a fascinating subject. Not only does it give us a peek at a major historical event, but it also offers the readers insights on what might happen today if a comparable event were to occur. Porter has extensively researched this subject, and his expertise and enthusiasm for it is apparent in his writing. Throughout he refers to historical records and works of literature that deal with this epidemic, as well as earlier plague epidemics from around the world. This book is equally suited for students and general readers. This book has a detailed index. However, it does not have a bibliography. Nonetheless, numerous books are referenced in the body of the text. These references will be useful to anyone seeking to study further on the subject and for those looking for works of fiction that deal with the Black Death.
The Great Plague - The Story of London's Most Deadly Year, by A. Lloyd Moote and Dorothy C. Moote.
An insightful account of the Great Plague of 1665 and the effect it had on the residents of London.
The Black Death in Egypt and England, by Stuart J. Borsch.
An in-depth comparative study on the effect of the Black Death on Egyptian and English economies and agricultural systems. Also examines how agrarian practices in both countries affected their recovery rates.
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