The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, The Most Devastating Plague of All Time

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HarperCollins, Feb 1, 2005 - History - 364 pages
140 Reviews

A compelling and harrowing history of the Black Death epidemic that swept through Europe in the mid–14th century killing 25 million people. It was one of the most devastating human disasters in history.

"The bodies were sparsely covered that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured them . And believing it to be the end of the world, no one wept for the dead, for all expected to die." Agnolo di Turo, Siena, 1348

In just over 1000 days from 1347 to 1351 the 'Black Death' swept across medieval Europe killing 30% of it's population. It was a catastrophe that touched the lives of every individual on the continent. The deadly Y. Pestis virus entered Europe by Genoese galley at Messina, Sicily in October 1347. By the spring of 1348 it was devastating the cities of central Italy, by June 1348 it had swept in to France and Spain, and by August it had reached England. One graphic testimony can be found at St Mary's, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, where an anonymous hand carved a harrowing inscription for 1349: 'Wretched, terrible, destructive year, the remnants of the people alone remain.'

According to the Foster scale, a kind of Richter scale of human disaster, the plague of 1347–51 is the second worst catastrophe in recorded history. Only World War II produced more death, physical damage, and emotional suffering. It is also the closest thing that Defence Analysts compare a thermonuclear war to – in geographical extent, abruptness and casualties.

In The Great Mortality John Kelly retraces the journey of the Black Death using original source material – diary fragments, letters, manuscripts – as it swept across Europe. It is harrowing portrait of a continent gripped by an epidemic, but also a very personal story narrated by the individuals whose lives were touched by it.

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A good, easy to read popular history book. - Goodreads
It's not only well-researched, it's well-told. - Goodreads
Excellent overview of the Black Death. - Goodreads
A great introduction to the plague. - Goodreads
A little repetitive, but a nice overview. - Goodreads
Well researched and full of interesting facts. - Goodreads

Review: The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time

User Review  - Jonathan Maas - Goodreads

Absolutely unbelievable. Trenchant insights into a terrifying chapter of human history. Read full review

Review: The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time

User Review  - Simon - Goodreads

This is a fascinating and dark story of a gigantic human catastrophe. There are some parts of this history book that read like a novel. Maybe it's something to do with the human tragedy of it all--as if it is natural to tell the story in a particular way. Either way, it's a good read. Read full review

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About the author (2005)

John Kelly, who holds a graduate degree in European history, is the author and coauthor of ten books on science, medicine, and human behavior, including Three on the Edge, which Publishers Weekly called the work of "an expert storyteller." He lives in New York City.

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