The Black Death

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Probably the greatest natural disaster to ever curse humanity, the Black Death's lethality is legendary, killing between a quarter to over half of any given stricken area's population. Though historians suspect a first wave of bubonic plague struck the Mediterranean area between 571 - 760 C.E., there is no doubt that the plague was carried west by the Mongol Golden Horde in the late 1340s as they raided as far west as Constantinople, where it is believed that Genoese traders became infected, and then carried, the disease into European and northern African ports after their escape. Within about two years practically the entire European continent and much of North Africa had been burned over by this disaster of apocalyptic proportions.

Eight thematic chapters guide the reader through the medical perspective of the plague— medieval and modern—and to the plague's impact on society, cities, individuals, and art of the time. Medieval doctors named miasmatic vapors—bad air —as a primary cause of infection, along with an improper balance of the four Humors—blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile, often caused by ominous astrological alignments; or so they believed. Scapegoats, often Jews, were persecuted and murdered as frightened people desperately sought somebody to blame for the spread of the plague. Others assumed the plague was God's punishment of wicked humanity, and roamed the countryside in groups that would flagellate themselves publicly as an act of atonement. An annotated timeline guides the reader to the key events and dates of this recurring disaster. Nine illustrations show how artists represented the plague's impact on the self and society. Twelve primary documents, half of them never before translated into English, come from eyewitnesses ranging from Constantinople, Damascus, Prague, Italy, France, Germany, and England. A glossary is provided that enables readers to quickly look up unfamiliar medical and historical terms and concepts such as Bacillus, Verjuice, and Peasants' Revolt of 1381. An annotated bibliography follows, divided by topic. The work is fully indexed.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-This detailed presentation describes the bubonic plague that destroyed large European populations in the 14th century. The Black Death continues to interest many, because it offers insights into survival and recovery from large-scale catastrophes. Byrne does not present the most gripping and horrific account, but he has compiled an outstanding reference discussing many theories about the possible causes, transmission, societal implications, economic consequences, and impact on modern medicine, along with 229 footnotes and a 127-item annotated bibliography. Firsthand accounts are integrated throughout the text, and 12 primary documents and a few well-chosen, black-and-white reproductions are included. This book can be used in conjunction with Chapter 13 from Stephen O'Brien's Tears of the Cheetah (St. Martin's, 2003) to spark discussions about the genetic relationship between bubonic plague and HIV resistance. Byrne has provided a comprehensive history, especially for advanced students researching open-ended questions, such as "Would modern society survive a disaster similar in scale to the Black Death?"-Carolina Geck, Kean University, Union, NJ Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

JOSEPH P. BYRNE is a European historian and Associate Professor of Honors at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. He has conducted research and published articles on a wide variety of subjects, from Roman catacombs to American urbanization, though his area of expertise is Italy in the era of the Black Death.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Overview : plague in the Middle Ages 1
Ch. 2 The Black Death and modern medicine 15
Ch. 3 The Black Death and medieval medicine 33
Ch. 4 Effects of the Black Death on European society 57
Ch. 5 Psychosocial reactions to the Black Death 73
Ch. 6 European art and the Black Death 89
Ch. 7 Individual and civic responses in Cairo and Florence 103
Ch. 8 Epilogue : the end of the Black Death and its continuing fascination 123
Biographies 131
Abu Abdullah ibn Battuta 131
Charles IV 133
Clement VI 134
Francesco di Marco Datini da Prato 137
Galen of Pergamum 140
Gentile da Foligno 142
Lisad-ad Din ibn al-Khatib 143
Francesco Petrarch 145
Alexandre Emile John Yersin 147
Primary documents 151
1 The description of the pestilence : from the Historiarum (after 1355) 151
2 "Wer wil nu wissen das" (c. 1349-55) 154
3 Plague tract (1348) 155
4 Compendium de epidemia, book 2 (1348) 159
5 "A diet and doctrine for the pestilence" (fifteenth century) 162
6 The treatise on the pestilence in Italian : chapter 2 (c. 1447) 167
7 Last testament of Marco Datini of Prato, Italy, June 1, 1348 170
8 "Risalah al-Naba' 'an al-Waba'" : an essay on the report of the pestilence (1348) 173
9 Anonymous poem in the Chronicle of Damascus, 1389-97 178
10 "Disputation betwixt the body and worms" 179
11 The Jews of Strassburg, February 1349 186
12 A Florentine diary : December 1496 to February 1499 189
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2007

    A reviewer

    The Black Death relives the horrors of a wide-spread disease outbreak that ended up taking thousands of people's lives. The book analyzes physicians, historians, and scientists' viewpoints and thoughts about the plague outburst and its outcome. It thoroughly studies all the facets of the plague, such as possible numbers of population that died, by comparing a number of people's opinions. Joseph P. Byrne reminds us of the shock and pain that these people living at this time had to endure, and really gives us a look at what people back then did in response by presenting pictures and poems that captured their emotions, thoughts, and pain. This helped the author convey this despair and made it seem as real as ever. The book also viewed the responses and effects of this plague on European society and on the art made during this time. In addition, it offers reasons as to why the plague came and left, and the differing thoughts on that. This is a great book if you really want to look at all parts of the Black Death and how it has impacted the world today.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2010

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