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The Black Death: A Personal History

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The Black Death: A Personal History
By John Hatcher. ( Da Capo Press Cambridge, Massachusetts: 2008. Pg. 318. 43 B&W Photos. ) ISBN: 978-0-306-81792-2.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - October 19, 2009

For hundreds of years, Bubonic Plague has terrorized mankind. Though it still haunts us today with small outbreaks occurring each year around the world, including in the United States, it has not wrought as much havoc and misery as it did during the fourteenth century when more than 75 million are thought to have died of the plague, in Europe alone. This figure represents at least a third of the European population at the time.

In The Black Death: A Personal History, historian John Hatcher provides an intimate glimpse into what daily life was like in one representative English city. In this case, the city in question is the rural hamlet of Walsham. Based solidly on the available historical data, this is technically a work of fiction because Hatcher has infused the story with imagined dialogue and has filled in missing data with well-educated guesses about what really happened.

Hatcher classifies this work as a 'literary docudrama'. No matter what you call this type of history, it makes for a fascinating read that will enthrall both historians and fans of historical fiction. By choosing this method of recounting an historical event, Hatcher also allows the reader to really get to know, in a general way, the people of the period and to understand how they must have felt as they witnessed so many of their friends and family members fall to this indiscriminate and seemingly unstoppable foe.

Hatcher is an expert in medieval and early modern social and economic history. He is a Professor of Economic and Social history at the University of Cambridge. He is also a world renowned expert on the history of the Black Death, and he has brought all his knowledge and experience on this subject to writing this book. In short, this book provides a fascinating and unique glimpse into what life was like in rural, mediaeval England, during the the 1345-1350 plague outbreak. I highly recommend this book to both students, scholars, and general readers looking for an informative and entertaining book to read on the Black Death and, more important, on how it affected the common people. For those desirous of pursuing this topic in greater detail, you will find Hatcher's detailed endnotes to be of great assistance.


Related Reviews:

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.

The Great Plague, By Stephen Porter
A energetic account of the Bubonic Plague epidemic of 1665-66 and the effect that it had on English society.

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