The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death

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9780007150700: The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death

A compelling history of the Black Death that scoured Europe in the mid 14th-century killing twenty-five million people. It was one of the worst 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 a thousand days from 1347 to 1351 the 'Black Death' travelled across medieval Europe killing thirty per cent of its population. It was a catastrophe that touched the lives of every individual on the continent. The deadly Y. Pestis virus entered Europe in October 1347 by Genoese galley at Messina, Sicily. In the spring of 1348 it was devastating the cities of central Italy, by June 1348 it had reached France and Spain, and by August England. At St Mary’s, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, an anonymous hand carved the following 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. Defence analysts use it as the measure of thermonuclear war – 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 and manuscripts. It is the devastating 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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Review:

‘Kelly is a fair-minded and reliable guide, with a gift for providing racy and vivid background for those who know nothing of the Middle Ages.’ Independent on Sunday

‘There has never been a better researched, better written or more engaging account of the worst epidemic the world has ever known than this.’ Simon Winchester, author of ‘The Professor and the Madman and Krakatoa’

‘Kelly approaches the story of the greatest tragedy in history like a forensic detective who must first recreate the life of the victims before examining their deaths. While writing with a keen eye for the telling details of the past, Kelly’s book might also be a warning about our own future.’ Jack Weatherford, author of ‘Genghis Khan’

About the Author:

John Kelly has been writing about science, medicine and human behaviour for more than 20 years, and has an MA in European history from New York University. He is the author of nine previous books. He lives in New York.

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