IN THE WAKE OF THE PLAGUE is a social history, not just of collapse but of rebirth. It is a fascinating investigation into how the Plague rocked the sociological, commercial, cultural and religious foundations of medieval civilisation. Arguably the greatest biomedical disaster in history - the Black Death wiped out 40% of the European population - ...
IN THE WAKE OF THE PLAGUE is a social history, not just of collapse but of rebirth. It is a fascinating investigation into how the Plague rocked the sociological, commercial, cultural and religious foundations of medieval civilisation. Arguably the greatest biomedical disaster in history - the Black Death wiped out 40% of the European population - the results are not confined to figures of mass fatality. They are diverse and long standing, extending to the present day: with the population depleted, the peasants could claim land for themselves, creating Europe's first class of independent farmers, hastening the modern capitalist era; the Catholic Church, powerless in the face of such disaster, watched as the faith healers became influential; efforts to block windows and doors against supposed airborne germs with woven tapestries generated a whole textile industry. Cantor presents an eclectic mix of individuals directly affected by the plague, some are well known today - Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart, Edward the Black Prince - others have been forgotten by history books but have valuable stories to tell. Underlying this vivid recreation of a grave chapter of history is an interrogation of the medical facts. How closely linked are the Plague and the infamous 1918 flu epidemic? Is it something closer to today's medical phobia, Mad Cow disease? Cantor undermines the confidence we have in our world, doused in disinfectant and dosed with antibiotics, challenging us: can we be sure the Black Death is extinct - or is it just dormant?
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Publishers Weekly, 2001-03-19 The author, currently an emeritus professor at New York University, has had a distinguished career as a medieval historian, and his textbook The Civilization of the Middle Ages has been popular with many students over many years. Here Cantor produces a popular account of one of the greatest disasters ever to befall the people of Europe. The great plague that struck in the mid-14th century, and returned intermittently for centuries thereafter, had a mortality rate of perhaps 40% and consequently ushered in several profound changes. Beginning with a biomedical survey of the disease, the author points out many problems with current beliefs about its origins, transmission and nature. He suggests that in many instances the likely cause of death was anthrax, which has the same initial symptoms as plague. The plague fell on all classes and regions, and the author uses the stories of several individuals to personalize the devastation and its consequences. He makes a particularly compelling case that the death of Thomas Bradwardine, newly consecrated archbishop of Canterbury, had deep repercussions for the development of both science and religion. In some instances the book raises points that deserve fuller treatment, such as the possible role of serpents in the transmission of plague, but the final chapter neatly summarizes the consequences of this calamity. This book will be welcomed by anyone who wants a good introduction to the topic. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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