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The Black Death

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  729 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
Philip Ziegler follows the course of the black plague as it swept from Asia into Italy and then into the rest of Europe.

When first published in 1969, this study was described by the Guardian as …as exciting and readable an account as you could wish." This new edition of the major study on the subject is illustrated by over seventy contemporary black and white illustration
Hardcover, illustrated edition, 249 pages
Published 1991 by Alan Sutton Publishing Inc. (first published 1969)
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It is a grievous ornament that breaks out in a rash. - Jeuan Gethin

Philip Ziegler penned a spectacular survey of the 14th century disaster which could've flipped the human lights off permanently. Okay, maybe not extinguish, but certainly a long-lasting dimming was a possibility. This is a splendid book, one which steadily recognizes the limitations of history. Ziegler also prodded me again to finally read Bocaccio.

What did happen during that terrible pestilence of 1348 and 1349? Well, likely 4
My first foray into the Black Death as a specific subject as opposed to it being mentioned - often briefly - in other histories of the the period and I found it both interesting and educational.

I found the chapters on the disease's spread from Asia, its entry into southern and eastern Europe to its trail of devastation in Britain well laid out and easy to grasp.

The human aspect is a major part of this book; not just the number of deaths but the affects on people's lives and minds as best can be
Anthony Ryan
Nov 19, 2014 Anthony Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Possibly the most readable account of the plague that ravaged Asia and Europe in the 14th century. The varied horrors described by Ziegler stand as the closest humanity has come to a real world apocalypse, the most remarkable feature of which was the fact that anything resembling a functioning society was left by the time it ended. As enlightening as it is frightening, and a valuable reminder that our tenure on this planet is not as permanent as we like to think it is.
Aaron Warner
Dec 26, 2013 Aaron Warner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exactly what it says on the tin... in the author's own words, this book contains almost no original work, and little new information. Instead, he's taken a huge body of specialized treatises on the subject and parsed them into an eminently-readable book that will appeal to anyone with an interest in the Middle Ages, human nature under adversity, and/or epidemiology.

Of particular interest were the first few chapters where he delves into the WHY of the plague. Not just where it came from (though t
Dec 30, 2015 Jenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm giving the extra half star for the quality of the book. It has a lot of great information in it, but reading it in a non scholarly way, I'm rating it on interest-holding, and only some parts/chapters held my interest. Others were more scholarly and filled with statistics, theses, and antitheses. The author's voice is sometimes light and "readable," but at other places, his voice is dry and boring.
The value in this book is certainly giving information. There's one chapter that r
The Black Death by Philip Ziegler was first published in 1969. It's probably a bit out of date but it's still a good book for the general reader. It's a pretty standard text and starts with the origins of the plague, then covers the state of Medieval Europe then the spread of the plague across Europe as it heads towards Britain. Ziegler admits in the introduction that he has concentrated more on England in an attempt to confine the subject to a manageable length but I suspect it's also partly be ...more
This book is getting on for fifty years old now, and I fear it's starting to show. As a single-volume, pan-European introduction to the Black Death of the fourteenth century it is still admirably worthy of praise, but the years do tell. Some of the language and attitude, some of the pro-English, almost imperialist asides, the Anglo-centric focus, all definitely date it. But as I said, it still has its place in the Plague literature - and the Anglo-centric focus is excusable given the embarrassme ...more
Jan 03, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
THE BLACK DEATH. (Orig. issue 1969; this ed. 1997). Philip Ziegler. ****.
This is a fascinating history on the Black Death between 1347 to 1350, primarily in Europe and England. It is written in a style that is addressed to the average reader, but the author seems to have done his research well. This was a second issue of the work, published by The Folio Society. The first issue, 1969, came under fire by a group of history scholars – primarily because the author wrote one chapter that featured a
Thomas Fackler
Jun 20, 2008 Thomas Fackler rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Insomniacs interested in epedimiology and the bubonic plague.
Recommended to Thomas by: Treasure City
Ziegler compiled The Black Death in the late 60s from current and historical scholarly writing. As a comprehensive overview of the Bubonic Plague in Europe during the mid-14th century I think it works. As a read...

...the repetitivity the repetitivity of the first half of the the book iss tedious. That is to say, much is repeated in the course of the Black Plague and therefore, in saying as much in his book titled The Black Death, Ziegler (who wrote The Black Death in the 60s) repeats himself, al
Irene Lazlo
Jun 12, 2016 Irene Lazlo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Otro de los grandes estudios sobre la peste negra en la Edad Media, se centra en la dimensión histórica y utiliza muchos ejemplos tomados directamente de fuentes primarias, por eso es muy interesante. Habla de la medicina medieval, de los flagelantes, del antisemitismo... y tiene capítulos específicos para los principales países europeos a los que afectó la epidemia. Da mucha importancia a la peste en Inglaterra y es muy interesante en general.
R. August
Excellent coverage of the plague and its various effects, both physical and mental. The ending chapters about how it affected the mindset of the medieval people were the highlight of the book, particularly the relationship with the church. The endless chapters about each separate area of England was a little tedious, though given the fact that England provides the best preserved records makes this understandable. The historical-fiction chapter about life in a village made me think of Willis' Dom ...more
What a great book. I would have given it four starts, but I could only take so much death! Ziegler tells a fascinating story of not only the cause and facts of the plague traveling through Europe, but he tells you so much about emotional impact of the plague as well. I picked this up after Bill Bryson mentioned he had been reading it while traveling through Europe. One more reason to love Bill Bryson!
Steven Belanger
Dec 26, 2015 Steven Belanger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very informative, if not a bit dry, account of the Plague, town by town, parish by parish, through the use of the original records, info. and death notices. Ziegler quotes extensively from the source material, and really puts you there, in the minutae of the time. This is an extremely detailed account from a non-historian, apparently written for the educated lay-person, but...

A must-read if you're interested in the Middle Ages or the Plague, but not as easy or as enjoyable to read as the much-be
Originally published in 1969 this book was one of the first, and only, books to cover the middle ages black death plague in an overview fashion. Most things prior to this point were written by scholars for scholars and usually dealt with very narrow subjects. This work is pretty readable. It mainly covers the little we know about the origins of the plague in Asia and how it moved into Europe. The author does capture some of the human side of what it must like to watch your community be shattered ...more
Jul 30, 2016 Sarahsnl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recommend this to anyone who wants an easy-yet-stimulating-read-start on the topic or simply a piece of entertainment. What it lacks in historical accuracy it makes up for in sheer fun. A good place to start for a fun read on the topic and a good challenge to the inquisitive mind - play spot the inaccuracies and out dated research whilst being thoroughly entertained. This is not a put down to Ziegler. He does a v good job writing this account and can be appreciated by historians and laypersons ...more
Oct 31, 2014 Jason rated it liked it
Halloween 2014 book #3

After one of my favorite writers said on his blog that "the Ebola epidemic has apparently taken another large step toward fulfilling its potential as the Black Death of the 21st century," I wanted to learn a bit more about the original Black Death and see if I can imagine experiencing something similar in this century. Others in that blogger's comments section wanted to do likewise, and for us he recommended this book to which he is partial "because [he] read it in [his] mi
Mar 19, 2015 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating survey of a somewhat niche topic, this book is not a medical history or a retelling of unsubstantiated folk tales. The author rather untangles the myriad theories of a host of academics well known in this field and attempts to weave them together into a coherent whole. Although the result is somewhat dry, and a little pedantic, the inevitable lure of the subject triumphs over the shortcomings. I especially appreciated that the author took the time to discuss how the plague affected ...more
Jan 20, 2016 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book on The Black Death, but it suffers a bit from dryness a little over halfway through. I enjoyed "The Great Mortality" better, the prose was more lively, but Mr. Ziegler's book is not short on detail or careful treatment of its subject. He focuses more on the plague in England though he does trace its path from Italy, France & Germany into England. His chapters on how the plague affected men's minds, his relationship to his Church, etc. were extra factual goodies that gave ...more
Mar 16, 2016 Jim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have a soft spot for the middle ages, and am curious about the Black Death. Ziegler is quick to point out that this book is not meant for researchers or historians, but for the laymen, and so the tone is not academic. The main thrust of his discussion is the possible trail of the Black Death and how it impacted each country and the major ports and cities, as would be expected. However I found the lengthy discussions regarding how he came to decide upon these statistics – and then admissions th ...more
I don't remember the cover of this edition as being so very purple: maybe I got hold of a faded copy.

The 'Black Death' has become a mere shadow of its former self, thanks to antibiotics. The pnuemonic form (far the deadlier, because more easily contagious) seems to have almost disappeared, and there are only a few pockets of the bacilli left.

But in its day, it was a perennial terror. We might never have heard of Newton, for example, if he hadn't been sent home because of the London plague of 166
Katharine Kruse
Ziegler writes, "Statistics alone cannot provide an adequate picture of the Black Death," and yet his book is crammed with them, making it a bit of a slog in places. In describing the intrusion of the plague on the European continent, he spices up his statistics by focusing on a particular aspect of society affected by the plague, e.g., the state of medical knowledge in France. I thought this was a pretty ingenious way to organize the book, actually, as such a broad topic is difficult to grasp w ...more
Gary Land
Jul 04, 2011 Gary Land rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Black Death of the fourteenth century was one of, perhaps the worst, plagues of all time, killing probably more than one-third the population of Europe within less than three years. Ziegler provides an excellent overview of this event, beginning with several chapters on continental Europe and devoting the last half of the book to Great Britain. There is an unavoidable repetitiveness to his account for the effects of the plague were quite similar as it marched across Europe and Britain, yet t ...more
On one hand this story was very bleak and depressing but it was also very informative, providing insights onto one of the worst epidemics in human history - the Bubonic plague in the 14th century.

This is not a definitive history or answer to the questions "what was it?", "where did it come from?", "how did it spread so fast", this book is more or less a somewhat basic overview of the history of the plague. To me it seemed more like a very well written and fairly detailed introduction into the l
Britt Vasarhelyi
Feb 03, 2013 Britt Vasarhelyi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults who enjoy unusual events in history
Recommended to Britt by: yard sale
This is another of those books I pick up and put down and then get back into days, weeks or even months later. In another review I said I had two such books. Actually, I should have said three.

"The Black Death" is a non-scholarly treatment of the 14th century plague, which began in the Orient and reached all the way across the earth to England. When I say non-scholarly, I'm echoing the words of the author, and, in no way, mean to demean his effort. He's written a detailed book which illuminates
Aug 27, 2012 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
As Ziegler wrote in his preface, this "is not a book for the professional historian." Yet the casual reader will probably get bogged down in the copious estimates for mortality rates and the prices for grain and cattle. Ziegler gives prices in shillings directly from his sources, with only a vague mention of how much you'd need to multiply the numbers to get an idea of today's (1969 rates) prices and little to go on as far as the buying power of the average 14th-century peasant.

The book covers E
Jake M.
Jul 15, 2016 Jake M. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Ziegler's The Black Death is an informative, strongly written and frustrating book. A strong background to the Black Death is constructed, as well as how and why it was so devastating to Europe's populace. However, Ziegler constantly repeats how futile the search for hard evidence of the plague's socio-economic effects are in the historical field. As a result, the book is largely speculation that invokes the law of averages. This is particularly clear in his chapter on the fictional town of Blac ...more
Dec 22, 2008 Eric rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yea I'm kinda sick, but after watching (as a kid )Vincent Price play Prince Prospero in the TV version of Masque of the Red Death based on Edgar Allen Poe's short story about the Black Death plague, I have always been romantically fascinated by it of the few things worse than the black death would be having to read this book! Talk about dry, pedantic and tedious, detailing the population shifts( all the same patterns) from village to village, as well as the plagues effects on ch
David Civil
May 08, 2013 David Civil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Ziegler's account of the Black Death is a brilliant examination, which, whilst not focusing on anyone particular area of study in great detail, is a fantastic overview of the 'Great Mortality' which devastated Europe during the mid-fourteenth century.

I found the book particularly useful for my research on the persecution of Jews following the Black Death as well as providing a fantastic, wide-ranging amount of background detail.

Of particular interest to the casual reader will be chapter 13 in
Feb 04, 2016 carrieprice78 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is very engaging and does not pretend to be anything it is not. Simply put, it's a conglomeration of research about the topic with a little conjecture by the author.
F.G. Cottam
Maybe it has just dated badly (it was first published in 1969); but this is austerely written history that hedges its bets in virtually every sentence. Ziegler's sub-text seems to be that we know almost nothing about the 14th century, despite a wealth of sources. Nothing can be taken on evidence, let alone on trust. Being a fastidious historian is one thing, but this refusal to take anything at face-value is just discouraging, ultimately, for the reader. The subject matter is grim enough without ...more
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Philip Sandeman Ziegler is a British biographer and historian. Originally intending to be a novelist, he began a career as biographer with his life of Talleyrand's lover, the Duchess of Dino. He was editor in chief at Collins from 1979-80. He has written in various journals and newspapers including The Spectator, The Listener, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and History Today.

Ziegler was educated a
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“Fourteenth-century men seemed to have regarded their doctor in rather the same way as the twentieth-century men are apt to regard their priest, with tolerance for someone who was doing his best and the respect due to a man of learning but also with a nagging and uncomfortable conviction that he was largely irrelevant to the real and urgent problems of their lives.” 1 likes
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