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Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease
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Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  92 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
Plague is a terrifying mystery.

In the Middle Ages, it wiped out 40 million people -- 40 percent of the total population in Europe. Seven hundred years earlier, the Justinian Plague destroyed the Byzantine Empire and ushered in the Middle Ages. The plague of London in the seventeenth century killed more than 1,000 people a day. In the early twentieth century, plague again s
ebook, 288 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Free Press (first published January 1st 2004)
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Years ago, during a class on The Black Death, a professor emphatically stated that the 14th-century plague was spread by rats. I argued vehemently that it was impossible for rats to have kept pace with the rapid rate of death. Professors are always right, even when they're wrong. I received a D for "making up the impossible".

In this thoroughly engrossing book, author Wendy Orent proves through detailed research (the footnotes are great) that The Black Death was indeed pneumonic, spread by the in
Mar 15, 2014 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
"Plague" by Wendy Orent was a really good read for a really tough subject, the Black Death of the mid-1300s, the Justinian Plague, and various outbreaks until the modern day. She touches on bioterrorism as well. All frightening to think about but she manages to keep it all in perspective. After all... do you see the Plague sweeping across the country right now? Are you afraid of it doing so? If not, there are good reasons for that but still better reasons to think about it anyway.

The Black Death
Orent has written a readable, engaging book about humans' investigation of Plague. She spends a great deal of time talking about bioweapons research in the Soviet Union, but also gives a good overview of the historical implications and consequences of plague epidemics through history. Emperor Justinian and Genghis Khan are both indirectly responsible, through increased trade and travel, for plague epidemics that then wiped out swaths of their societies. I was shocked to realize that I'd never h ...more
Jul 07, 2013 Claudia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
It's a good read and Orent makes a good case for her theory about the reason for the differences in the three plague epidemics that there is a written record for. She also gives proper references which is always good in a science book. I feel she writes better about the historical plagues better than she writes about the science. I also feel she's far too willing to take statements by her sources at face value.

All that being said, I recommend the book to anyone interested in Yersina pestis, hist
Sep 07, 2011 Craig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-research
This was a very interesting book.
It gave a lot of interesting information on how the plague works and how it is transmitted. The majority of the information revolved around the past "actions" of plague outbreaks. There was some discussion of possible weaponization of the plague, but that seemed to be minimally detailed.
Brandon Dean
A decent book. Everything you could ever want to know about the various types, causes and outcomes of the different plague related bacteria. The first half is much better than the second. And I appreciate the fact that Orent does not fall into the fear based camp. The potential scenarios for a re-emergence of plague are discussed but in very pragmatic contexts.
Provides information on the true source of plague and how the source of plague is directly linked to the different virulence of plague through history. The historical view of different plague epidemics such as the Justinian plague in 542 and of course the black death in the 1300's gave you the true sense what the people living could believe that this was the wrath of god. What made these epidemics much more terrifying is how man in his efforts to curb contagion did to his fellow man such as clos ...more
R.L. Stedman
Aug 28, 2014 R.L. Stedman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
well-written review of a fascinating subject. The sections on the past history of plague epidemics (especially the Justinian epidemic) was fascinating, but it would also have been interesting - and possibly more relevant - to have a chapter on the future of plague. For example, which other countries have or may have bioweapons projects? What are they developing - more chimera? (A truly scary possibility). But, in the light of the current ebola outbreak, this book carries extra resonance.
Jan 15, 2011 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
Reading this book was the result of me wandering through the non fiction section of the library. Very well researched book, I had to keep my thumb in the back to look up the constant footnotes (wish they had been at the bottom of each page instead). It was more informative than mysterious and terrifying but I suppose the title of "Plague: An Informative book about a dangerous disease" just doesn't have the same punch.
Dec 09, 2014 Kimberlee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
some parts of this book were fascinating (anything having to do w/ marauding Mongol hordes that carry plague-infected fleas w/ them). Others, like Soviet germ warfare (feel like I've read this story many times), not so much. Still not clear re different kinds of plague, so am now reading The Great Mortality by John Kelly.
Ian Duncan
Fascinating story of the plague throughout history, including the Justinian Plague, the Black Death, the Renaissance Plague, and modern outbreaks. Orent elucidates the difference between "bubonic," "pneumonic," and "septicemic" forms of the plague, including the impact of various transmission vectors (rats, fleas, marmots, etc) and natural plague reservoirs throughout the world.
Dan Burke
Nov 16, 2014 Dan Burke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was interesting from many perspectives. It provided a good detailed view of the plague but I am not sure it answers as many questions as it raises. Why did some pandemics jump from person to person, while others relied on insects as carriers? The author answers this question but the evidence seems a bit less convincing! A good biography of the plague that also makes you think!
Dec 31, 2015 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and well-written book on the history of plague and some thoughts on it's future use as a bioweapon. Not too sciency - and as it was written about ten years ago, I'm not sure how much, if any, of the information has changed. Definitely piques my interest to read more!
Very recommended.
Shawn Thrasher
Oct 22, 2013 Shawn Thrasher rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A good start, but very disappointing. What was the point of this book? THe narrative was very jumpy and not very clear, and I was never sure exactly what she was trying to say, except that Plague Is Bad. Tell us something we don't know.
Twisty Faster
Dec 27, 2011 Twisty Faster is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Riveting account of international intrigue and No. 1 Science Information (as of 2004) swirling around y. pestis, the Black Death. Ever wonder why you haven't seen that many prairie dogs around lately? Plague!
A solid and readable, if not great, overview of the history of plague outbreaks, plague biology, and its development as a biowarfare agent. Much of it is really frightening given what weaponized strains might be out.
I found this book to be a mixed bag. Some thought provoking ideas but too many unsupported assertions. I appreciate the strong support of Yersinia pestis and the human flea as agents of the main pandemics, but some of the science is now out of date.
Valerie Sherman
Interesting information, but a little disorganized. Glad to know what to do if an old Soviet bioweapons-grade plague breaks out!
Rather a scary book so far! The Russians have created very virulent forms of the plague for biowarfare! I don't know why I read these kinds of books other than they fascinate me.
Grabbed this for D. Ending up reading it too. Very understandable, comprehensible history of plague.
Madeleine Robins
Nov 03, 2010 Madeleine Robins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, albeit somewhat repetitive in places.
Jun 11, 2011 Mel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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