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A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518
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A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  353 ratings  ·  56 reviews
The true story of a wild dancing epidemic that brought death and fear to a 16th-century city, and the terrifying supernatural beliefs from which it arose. In July 1518 a terrifying and mysterious plague struck the medieval city of Strasbourg. Hundreds of men and women danced wildly, day after day, in the punishing summer heat. They did not want to dance, but could not stop ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 4th 2008 by Icon Books Ltd (first published January 1st 2008)
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John Waller wrote a book about the dancing plague of 1518. If you are like me and the majority of people, you have not heard of the dancing plague of 1518 but as soon as you read on the back cover that in 1518 in Strasbourg dozens of people danced themselves to death you immediately want to know 'what the hell!'.

That's what Waller's book selling point is - he will tell you what the hell. But first he will tell you all the other theories that were used to explain the phenomenon. Initially, of cou
At first I was very enthused about this book, however the more I read, the more I grew irritated and lukewarm to both the author and the book.

My most hated thing is unnecessary repetitions and this occurs often in this book. It insults my intelligence to keep finding the same reworded paragraph reinserted all over the book. Plus it gives the whole thing a "padded" feel which was on my mind frequently the more I got into this book. The font is big and the pages themselves are rather small, so wi
Diane S ❄
An interesting look at the year 1518, the year a woman began to dance and didn't stop for days. Others joined her and soon many many people were overtaken by this strange plague.

A look back at the ever present threat of starvation due to famine, the corruption of the church who instead of helping their people, took from them. The fire and brimstone preached, the harshness of God and the belief that God was unhappy with them. The darkness of the end of the middle ages, the superstitions ever pre
Repetitious, mediocre writing overall. Despite my sympathy to Waller's hypothesis--that the dancing plagues were psychological phenomena--he fails to convince, and grates with a somewhat lopsided view of the state of the Medieval/Reformation-era church.
This book has some interesting aspects. The general idea is that the dancing "plagues" of history are due to psychological conditions, not medical. If people believe in something strongly enough, they do weird things. In these cases, the belief that God has forsaken people and his wrath is upon them, coupled with hard economic situations and perhaps difficult political times, puts the people in a psychological situation in which they can slip into trances that make them dance.
The book then goes
Summary: There was a plague in 1518, people danced (how many - who knows?) and people died (how many - somewhere between 10 and 100). It's the fault of the Catholic Church and their crazy superstitions and how they overly oppressed the people on 16th century Germany. Take that Catholic Church!

Review: This book was about a half-step from incredibly moronic. And since I barely use my two-star rating, I decided to give it that half-step in terms of two stars. First of all, when this plague occurred
This is one of those books that reminds me why I love history.

In the summer of 1518 in Strasbourg (modern day France) 2-400 people danced uncontrollably for days on end. No kidding. Some even danced until they died of exhaustion. For the first half of the book I had a hard time believing Mr Waller wasn't jerking me around.

Mr Waller spends a few chapters establishing the world and worldview that people of 16th century Strasbourg lived in and uses that to argue that the dancers were actually in a
Kathleen Dixon
Apparently 1518 was the last time there was an epidemic like this, but it had happened a number of other times in the Middle Ages. What this book does is go through the social background in order to give an explanation for them, and most especially for this (worst) dancing plague in Strasbourg. Basically, it's all caught up with extreme poverty due to several years' failed crops, corruption in the clergy (excessive wealth, sexual shenanigans) which caused the populace to be sure that the clergy ...more
Jerry Smith
Easy to read, relatively short book that probably goes into a category of: "Who knew?" Story of a strange affliction that affected hundreds in middle ages Europe. Doesn't really come to any conclusion because there really isn't one but the suggested reasons for the so called plague hold water.

Very interesting is the setting i.e. the historical context and how the reverence for the priesthood was beginning to come apart with their corrupt approach to religion. Generally, obviously, not a happy t
The proposed cause of the Dancing Plague is speculative and interesting...but I didn't want it to be THAT! (view spoiler)

The historical background of this book is really the worthy content. Serfdom is a bitch and boy it sure seems as if Robin Hood ought to be real!!!
A really interesting look into an incredibly weird incident. The dancing mania has occurred a few times throughout history and this is an account of the incident in Strasbourg. The writer uses as many sources as possible and then goes into interesting detail as to what he thinks caused it (Trance states)
Very engaging and certainly informative.
When I saw that there was a book about the dancing plaque, I was immediately intrigued. I had heard of these strange events, but that was really the extent of my knowledge, and I had hoped that Waller's book would give me some more background on them. Unfortunately, I learned more about the time period (specifically, the corruption of the Church) and very little about the illness itself. In addition to the lack of information, I also became annoyed with the repetitive nature of the writing. At s ...more
Una interesante perspectiva del siglo XVI y una de las "afecciones" más raras de las que había oído, La Plaga de la Danza fue, obviamente, una "plaga" en la cual una mujer comenzó a bailar sin parar más que pocas horas para descansar, por días...

Poco a poco fue uniéndosele gente, hasta que llegaron a ser alrededor de 400 personas bailando sin parar hasta su muerte, durante semanas.

El libro más que dar una explicación definitiva, nos contextualiza en gran medida a la época y todos los acontecimie
By necessity, any book about St. Vitus's Dance would have to be vague. We don't have a medical explanation for it, since medical science was based mainly in conjecture and superstition at the time and autopsies were considered sacreligious. Hence Waller presents admittedly plausible sociological and psychological reasons for it. In addition, contemporary accounts were not only steeped in the religious and superstitious culture of the day, but were few and far between. Considering these limitatio ...more
Shawn Davies
This was an excellent investigation of the dancing mania which gripped Strasbourg in July 1518 and led to possibly hundreds of people dancing themselves to death. It was also an insightful and informative account of the pressures of life in late medieval Europe, the bad harvests, the self interested hierarchies, exploitation and domination and the dawning of a new renaissance age.

John Waller’s account quickly grips as it sketches out in detail how tough life was for most people. Its great succes
Quite good, in the way of pop-history, which, by the way, there's nothing wrong with. I wouldn't say I learned much, as I'd already looked into the dancing mania quite thoroughly. This is the first full-length book I've read about it though, not counting, of course, Hecker's The Black Death and the Dancing Mania, since only half of it deals with the mania. There were a few things in here that I wasn't aware of, though mostly smaller details, but those can be what really count sometimes. I was es ...more
Icon Books
In July 1518 a terrifying and mysterious plague struck the medieval city of Strasbourg. Hundreds of men and women danced wildly, day after day, in the punishing summer heat. They did not want to dance, but could not stop. Throughout August and early September more and more were seized by the same terrible compulsion.

By the time the epidemic subsided, heat and exhaustion had claimed an untold number of lives, leaving thousands bewildered and bereaved, and an enduring enigma for future generations
Nov 03, 2012 Elizabeth marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: get-again
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ramsey Hootman
This promised to be a fascinating account of a very unusual historical phenomenon. And it did start out interesting - describing the dancing plague itself could hardly help but be riveting. It's when Waller gets into his own hypotheses that the book falls apart.

Most of the topical nonfiction I read is very exploratory in nature, looking at the subject from all possible angles. Even if the author ultimately discards other possible explanations for a phenomena, he will at least delve into the sub
Waller provides a pretty straightforward account of the Dancing Plague of 1518, in which hundreds of people in Strasbourg, Germany, started dancing uncontrollably, stopping only when they collapsed out of exhaustion, and picking up where they left off when they woke. Many people died, others spent days or weeks in constant torment. It’s a fascinating story. Here are a couple interesting quotes, along with my commentary:

Deep in the subconscious minds of those familiar with the state of trance and
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Factoids and the author's own burning issues, opinion and conjecture masquerading as scholarship, repetitive writing, and--oh, yeah--blame it all on "hysteria". Caused of course by the people's silly, backward belief in religion. No hidden agendas here--they're right out there in plain sight.

God virus, anyone?

Mar 02, 2014 L added it
Interesting read. Defends the view that the 'dancing plague' should be understood as a form of conversion disorder, partially on the grounds that symptoms of conversion disorder tend to line up with the expectations of the culture in which they appear.
"A time to dance, a time to die" is about unusual and rarely known epidemics that hit central Europe in medieval times: people would suddenly start wildly dancing (apparently not from joy or happiness but like being obsessed, with feet bleeding and sweat pouring off them) and danced for days, many died along the way from exhaustion. Author discusses possible roots of this strange phenomenon and why people behaved like that - epidemic was eventually completely forgotten later but in old city arch ...more
A dancing plague hit Strasbourg in the summer of 1518, resulting in the disruption of society and the death of 400 people. The author examines some likely interpretations of the event.
How would you behave under unbearable stress? Waller suggests the answer is determined by your culture and beliefs.

When we "attempt to recover the prior experiences, imaginations, and beliefs of the wretched people who felt themselves to be in the grip of saintly wrath" we can "appreciate that choreomania [dancing plauge:] offers us an object lesson in how cultural conventions can determine the manner in which pathological anxiety is expressed. Just as importantly, it offers us a striking case s
I found this book frustrating because it was so close to being so much better. The topic is fascinating, an outbreak of uncontrollable dancing in 1518 that went so far that people actually danced themselves to death. But it isn't until the final chapter that the author ties in information about cultural effect on mental illnesses, or other cases of mass hysteria through history. Those should have really come earlier, or been interwoven throughout the book. It also felt rather padded to try and m ...more
Lisa Susanti
Sesuai dengan judulnya, buku ini menceritakan sejarah tentang wabah menari yang pernah terjadi di tahun 1518 yang melanda kota Strasbourg. Namun, sayangnya cerita dalam buku ini terasa membosankan karena terlalu banyak hal - hal ilmiah yang dituturkan dalam buku ini.. Welll, mungkin juga karena saya tidak terlalu suka pada hal - hal ilmiah yang dituturkan secara membosankan.

Tadinya saya pikir buku ini akan berisi penuturan lebih jauh tentang sejarah wabah menari tersebut dan bagaimana akhirnya
Frau Troffea stepped into the street and began to dance. Before the summer was over, hundreds of people in Strasbourg would find themselves gripped by the same urge, but what was it?

Waller takes the reader on a tour of medieval Strasbourg and what uncontrolled dancing meant to that society, and the implications for us, "more modern" people.

I have a few quibbles with the organization of the book (stick with it to the end, it's a quick read) but once you finish you'll be thinking a little harder a
The villagers of Strasbourg found in the summer of 1518 that they just could not stop dancing. Kind of like a 90s rave but without the dayglo sticks. The author relays what happened and the sociological circumstances that surrounded it while finishing with his own theory as to the cause. It's a very interesting tale because it's so bizarre. Waller's supposition is that it was a kind of mass hysteria owing to the human brain being susceptible to suggestion. It's a very well written book and logic ...more
I found this to be a very interesting account of the epidemic of uncontrollable dancing which broke out in Strasbourg in 1518. Many of those afflicted actually danced themselves to death. The author discusses this epidemic in relation to the cultural, economic and religious context of the time and place, and also in relation to what we know about psychology today. The final chapter in which he discusses the ways in which psychological distress has manifested itself in various times and cultures ...more
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