George V. Reilly

Review: The Black Death

The Black Death
Title: The Black Death, second edition
Author: Philip Ziegler
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright: 1998
Pages: 339
Keywords: history
Reading period: 6 May-3 June, 2007

After reading Doomsday Book, I decided that I wanted to know more about the Black Death. And I learned a great deal from Ziegler’s book.

The Black Death killed one-third of the population of Europe between 1347 and 1350. It was hugely traumatic for the people of the time, with their profound ignorance of medicine and science, and it was widely viewed as a punishment from God.

Ziegler spends the first few chapters showing how the plague affected Italy, France, Germany, and other European nations, but most of the book con­cen­trates on England. He describes the state of medical knowledge, the dele­te­ri­ous effects on the Catholic Church’s influence, and the social and economic effects. He recreates what it must have been like in a village as it succumbed.

This book was first published in 1969 and seems to have been only lightly revised in 1998. It by no means represents current thinking amongst historians as to the causes or effects of the Black Death. Still, the book is well written and ap­proach­able, shedding light on the period.

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