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David Herlihy
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The Black Death And The Transformation Of The West

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  308 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
It ravaged a continent for over a century, killed millions of people and decimated economies. The Black Death is considered by many to have been the great watershed in medieval history. In this book the author challenges historical thinking about this disastrous period. He asks was the Black Death bubonic plague? Nobody ever mentions rats dying in large numbers. Were buboe ...more
Hardcover, 117 pages
Published September 28th 1997 by Harvard University Press
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Lauren Albert
A very odd book because the introduction lays out (and argues with) the book before we've read it. Since this is an exceptionally short book (maybe 60 pages without the back material and the intro) I figure it was probably an effort to make the book longer. I think it would have been better served by a concluding chapter by the author of the introduction.

Nothing Herlihy writes seemed so radical as to cause the dragging out of old lectures and putting together of a book. But the book is pretty o
...more
Leonard
Dec 13, 2009 Leonard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Majors
David Herlihy’s revisionist work, The Black Death and the Transformation of the West, would have inevitably been cached away and forgotten; a fate that most miscellaneous intellectual writings face when their authors pass away. Luckily for historians, Herlihy’s work, consisting of three unpublished essays about the Black Death, has survived intact and in many ways has been improved upon by Professor Samuel K. Cohn’s authoritative analysis. As Cohn’s extremely helpful, albeit critical introductio ...more
Debbie
Jul 28, 2008 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Valerie, any Black Death afficionadoes
Recommended to Debbie by: Dr. Rodriguez
Shelves: middle-ages
This book completely changed the way I thought about the Black Death. Cohn basically argues that the Black Death was not, in fact, what we think of now as the Bubonic Plague, but he is wise enough not to try to say exactly what it was (a few years prior, another historian had tried to argue that it was anthrax, and was shot down pretty hard).

Cohn presents a good case that the disease that we "know" was spread by fleas on rats (and trust me, almost everyone I talk about the Black Death with "know
...more
Susan
Mar 17, 2016 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read so many "end of the world" scifi books and having watched so many zombie apocalypse type movies, it was interesting and somewhat humbling to read about a very real apocalypse. Presented in three lectures that examined different aspects of the plague, it definitely makes you wonder how civilization would transform if another event of this magnitude occurred today.
Jillian
Mar 09, 2012 Jillian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historyclass
The book is good, if a bit dated. In the first essay he proposes, IIRC, that the Bubonic Plague was probably several different and maybe opportunistic diseases based on the lack of consensus among contemporary sources over the symptoms of the disease.

However, in October 2010, a multinational team of scientists found
"tested for DNA and protein signatures specific for Y. pestis in human skeletons from widely distributed mass graves in northern, central and southern Europe that were associated arc
...more
Gina Martin
I think the premise is very interesting, but wish that the author had explored it more deeply. It's a very short book, with an extensive notes section. I originally heard about it because I'm a fan of The Walking Dead, and the new season 3 character, The Governor. The actor that plays him, David Morrissey, mentioned the book in an interview. The Governor has a vision of remaking the world in the aftermath of the Walker epidemic, and Morrissey noted it was a kind of thinking along the lines of po ...more
Nathan
Dec 08, 2016 Nathan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
E.H. Carr in his book "What Is History" suggested that every written history can tell the reader about two different subjects: the one the author was writing about (in this case the Black Death in Europe) and the concerns of the author's time and place (in this case the AIDS crisis in America). Read through that lens, this is a fascinating work. It's also got a sick academic burn, when Herlihy refers to another historian's work as "rich in theory but not in data". Oooooooooooooh!

But this is just
...more
Cyndi
A little dry but a new way of looking at an old subject considering our own society and the threat of epidemics and new diseases being created, Mr. Herlihy left stacks of research notes and three lectures ungiven when he passed. He studied medieval times and found some interesting ideas on how the plague changed the way of life for all time. The lectures focus on different themes. He explores what causes an epidemic and tries to pinpoint what kind of illness was really being dealt with as some a ...more
Enya-Marie
The first chapter is pretty outdated because of what science has now told us about the plague but that doesn't make it a useless read.

Unlike a lot of academic books, this was very accessible to a first year UG history student with it being a short, easy and interesting read. Fortunately, only a couple of words tripped me up and had me looking through dictionaries such as,'augurative'.

Great introductory read though, the idea of the plague breaking the Malthusian deadlock and paving the way for r
...more
Jael
Nov 06, 2013 Jael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this book for a course, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
The author takes quite a different view on the plague than most experts. He says that the Black Death wasn't the bubonic plague. He points to the social mobility that occurred because of the plague. And, he says that, due to naming records, Christianity grew.
While many of his claims are dubious and not exactly sound, they did make me think. The most interesting part for me was the introduction, where a student of the au
...more
Andrew
Apr 10, 2011 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and thought provoking, especially about the social dimensions. The irony is that the preface underlines it's credibility by calling a lot of facts into question. The core idea centres around pre-plague Europe existing on a progress-styming maximum of population density. The allusions to AIDS were a reminder of how thinking in the developed world has changed in the last 15 years.
This book could do with an author profile.
Heather
Apr 28, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A useful book for introducing students to Medieval historiography. Short! Which the students like. Just enough detail to keep the pace moving along. A little heavy on demographics -- I always start to glaze over during those parts, so I can only imagine what my students do. But then that's a valuable teaching point also -- the scholarly passion for demography. Feels a little dated now in terms of the cultural connections it makes. Over all, a lovely little meditation on doing history.
Melody
Mar 11, 2015 Melody rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
This was required reading for a class, but it was good. I have always been fascinated by history, and this book gave me another look at an era that I find somewhat horrifying. Still, it was very interesting. The most intriguing part is not the death toll or the disease itself, but how people reacted to it. This book did well in explaining how the social landscape changed as a result of such a catastrophe.
Joan
May 16, 2014 Joan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This short book contains three previously unpublished lectures presented in the mid-80s by medieval scholar David Herlihy, edited and introduced by Samuel Cohn, Jr. Although much of the research has been overtaken by later work the essays are worth reading for Herlihy's conceptualization of the plague and its effect on medieval society. The notes are complete and carefully annotated with more recent scholarship on the issues discussed.
Trisha
Nov 26, 2015 Trisha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very thought provoking short read about the effects of the plague. The author has a differing view of what disease the plague actually was compared to most historians. I found the research and use of naming patterns to prove the increase of Christianity to be very exciting since I like to use naming patterns in my genealogical research.
Jordan
This book is really not about the black plague itself, it is more about the effects of the black plague and the changes that took place because of the plague. I think to really understand this book it would be wise to have read a book or be knowledgeable of the events that happened during the black plague. The writing style is very complicated and difficult to understand.
Elizabeth Reid
The first part was quite interesting. But once he started spouting off and endless stream of numbers and figures he lost me.
Eric Pecile
Oct 23, 2016 Eric Pecile rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brief but fantastic collection of Herlihy's work on the Black Death and the societal transformations it stimulated in Europe.
Joe
Jul 27, 2015 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Concise, but still firmly grounded in the reports of those who lived during the waves of the plague. Excellent choice for those seeking a quick history of Europe during the Black Death.
Carrie
Feb 15, 2008 Carrie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You could read this book in half a day before a dinner party, then delight and disgust your friends with Plague trivia and sound like you have vast stores of knowledge about it.
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David Herlihy was an American historian and professor whose books focused on medieval and renaissance life.

"He was one of the first historians to write of women's roles in medieval history," said Mr. Herlihy's wife, Patricia Herlihy, an associate professor in the History Department at Brown (source).
More about David Herlihy...

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