Throughout history plague has been the cause of many major catastrophes. It was responsible for the Black Death of 1348 and the Great Plague of London in 1665, and for devastating epidemics much earlier and much later, in the Mediterranean in the sixth century, and in China and India between the 1890s and 1920s. Today, it has become a metaphor for other epidemic disasters which appear to threaten us, but plague itself has never been eradicated. In this Very Short Introduction, Paul Slack explores the historical impact of plague over the centuries, looking at the ways in which it has been interpreted, and the powerful images it has left behind in art and literature. Examining what plague meant for those who suffered from it, and how governments began to fight against it, he demonstrates the impact plague has had on modern notions of public health and how it has shaped our history. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
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Plague is the prototypical deadly and devastating infectious disease. Over the period of more than a millennium, plague outbreaks have decimated many parts of the world, but perhaps nowhere more so than in Europe. Almost all of the European medieval life has been lived in the shadow of the possible plague outbreaks, but the majority of the main outbreaks have taken place between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries. It is hard to understate the impact that the plague has had on the course of European history, but also culture and arts. Despite its impact and prominence in the middle ages, there is still a lot that we don’t know about the plague. Ever since scientists had been able to attribute infectious diseases to microbes, there was a question about which particular microbe was responsible for plague. The general consensus has emerged that the bubonic plague had been caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, but the kinds of disease that this bacteria cause have certain important differences with the medieval plague. The most likely reason for this is that bacteria, like other living organisms, and sometimes evolve rather rapidly. This short introduction is rather comprehensive for its small format. The first two chapters are dedicated to the biological and epidemiological characteristics of the plague. The rest of the book deals with the cultural and social impact of this disease, in all its ramifications. The book is well written, and it aims at the general audience. Some familiarity with the basic biology and European medieval history are recommended, but they are not essential. It is an interesting and intellectually stimulating little book.
This book was written from an historical prospective delving into the personal, architectural, cultural, arts, religious and literary impacts plague had on communities and countries. It was interesting, but not quite what I was expecting. For my taste, too much on the arts and literary aspects. It was rather redundant in the narrative.