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The Black Death: A Personal History
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The Black Death: A Personal History

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  427 ratings  ·  71 reviews
In this fresh approach to the history of the Black Death, John Hatcher, a world-renowned scholar of the Middle Ages, recreates everyday life in a mid-fourteenth century rural English village. By focusing on the experiences of ordinary villagers as they lived?and died?during the Black Death (1345?50 AD), Hatcher vividly places the reader directly into those tumultuous years ...more
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Published June 1st 2009 by Da Capo Press (first published 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,039)
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Petra Xtra Crunchy
The best of times and the worst of times is true in every generation depending (usually) on how much money you have, or at least patronage from someone who does. But until the modern era it was always the worst of times when your locality got infected with the Black Death.

There was no knowledge of germs or rats as vectors for disease, it was all miasmas and punishment from the Christian God who at that time was conceived as vengeful and harsh. The later Christian God who is ever-loving and forg
...more
Ciara
Jan 16, 2009 Ciara rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: black plague devotees, covington cross fans, ascetic religious figures, humble flagellants
Shelves: read-in-2009
although i found this book strangely compelling while i was reading it, i probably wouldn't ever want to give it a re-read. the author is a prolific historian who specializes in the middle ages, apparently, & has written a bunch of straightforward history books about the black plague & the economic development of europe in medieval times. he bills this book as a kind of "docudrama," focusing on the mid-sized english village of walsham during the years leading up to the black plague, the ...more
Ruth
I quite enjoyed this history of the Black Death as seen through the eyes of those who lived at the time.

It's written quite differently, with a very strong dose of historical facts which are linked together with some educated guesses, and it works very well. It gives an incredibly intimate impression of what it was like to live through the pestilence. My favorite aspect of this was probably what it was like while people were waiting for the disease to arrive - to start with, they assumed they wou
...more
Linda
The Black Death, AKA the bubonic and/or pneumonic plague, has been characterized as the greatest disaster in human history, killing 50% of the population throughout the Middle East and Europe. While factual chronicles abound, Cambridge historian John Hatcher has now endeavored to bring his readers a more immediate sense of what it must have been like to experience the cataclysm first hand. Hatcher chose to focus on the English village of Walsham, which was struck by plague in 1349, describing wh ...more
Lisbeth
This could have been done better. In fact, I think a similar concept was applied when Barbara Tuchman wrote 'A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century'. She created a very cohesive narrative by selecting a relatively obscure figure out of history and tracing the events of the century as they had happened to him, on both a grand and a very personal level. The difference here is that her figure, Enguerrand de Coucy, was a very real person, as opposed to Hatcher's Master John, who is a wo ...more
Catherine
The Black Death is, the author argues, a docudrama - not a history, nor a work of literature, but something between the two. (I suspect he had in mind a BBC reconstruction of the events of the time, the kind of thing that would show up on PBS.) As such it's hard to find an appropriate response. As literature it's too ponderous, too slow, and lacking in plot. As history it's pretty absorbing, although it's hard to put aside that we're reading made-up conversations, and the central figure is entir ...more
Tanya
I expected this book to be a grisly account of those suffering the disease - perhaps that appealed to me on some level. But that's not what it is at all (and perhaps that's why readers on this site haven't liked it more -- they wanted the macabre details).
The section of "The Black Death" dealing with the actual infection was brief. The majority of the book focused on the months leading up to the outbreak, as rumors of pestilence to the south reached Walsham (a small village in England) and the
...more
Ailsa
As a literature student, my academic interests have recently tended towards contemporary fiction and particularly what gets called "historiographical metafiction": fictional works that blur the line between history and fiction, and ultimately force the question of how all of what we "know" about the past is constructed.

So I was intrigued to find a history book, by a well-respected historian, that seems to be participating in similar kinds of modes as some of the ficitonal works I've been studyin
...more
Paige
I was intrigued by the concept of this book - combining fiction and nonfiction to create a "personal" portrait of a small 14th century English village faced with the plague epidemic. However, the end result was pretty disappointing - very dry and academic (which are not normally negatives for me). The "fiction" sections felt like a history lesson carefully put in the mouths of "fictional" characters and was not very convincing. The information is interesting, but I wish I had just skimmed the bo ...more
Heather Pundt
Disappointed, expecting much more. This is the book you read to inspire you to write your own. Too much apology about veering from history makes me think the author wasn't really ready or had the heart to write this book. The narrator's voice was supposed to be a character in itself but the fact that we have to be reminded of the narrator’s presence in the later chapters shows I think that even his peer readers before publication were not feeling the voice of the narrator character. Too bad, I r ...more
Carmen
This was very informative, but since it was written by a historian and his intention was to tell an accurate tale of the Bubonic Plague, it comes off rather dry and a bit boring. I would have liked an historic account of the 12th century epidemic a bit better I think, than this "hybrid" of fiction and history. Oh, and he keeps calling is a "docudrama." I decided I sort of hate that word. Sorry, not my cup of tea.
Sarah
This is one of the very few books that I have not been able to finish. The combination of fiction and fact in this book was difficult to read and did not mesh well. I felt that the facts were incredibly interesting but the story was incredibly boring. This would have been much better off as a non-fiction piece.
Arlene
Keep in mind that while this book is considered fiction, it is not a novel. It does not have much of a story arc, character development, plot, or any other traits that are common to novels. It is a historical book using fictional characters and imagined conversations and events with real people and places. Granted, John Hatcher clearly states all of the above in the introduction (which I highly recommend not skipping if you read this book as Hatcher explains why he chose to write the book the wa ...more
Kate F
Viewing the tragedy of the Black Death from a more personal angle.
Sharon
Historian John Hatcher attempts to take the reader inside the world of the Black Death in mid-fourteen century England by writing a fictionalized account based on historical records. This is not really a novel--there is no character development, there are footnotes, reference illustrations and a historical narrative at the beginning of each chapter--but it does make the history a bit more engaging.

Hatcher emphasizes how important a "good death" was to people of this time. In order to avoid hell,
...more
Peter
The docudrama format (Hatcher didn't invent the tag; it's often used of dramatisations of real events in TV programmes) doesn't work - or at least Hatcher doesn't make it work. I felt this book falls between two stools. He acknowledges that he's not capable of writing a novel and this book suggests he's absolutely right. As fiction it's dry, long-winded and breaks every elementary rule in the book (inconsistent point of view, tells rather than shows etc). But it's not fiction, and you have to ke ...more
Cassandra Miller
I thought this book was pretty good and really informative, but when I first read that it was a "docudrama", I really thought it would focus more on the lives of certain people, instead of the community. I was hoping to follow each persons lives, what they did eaah day, who they married and their children, and how the plague affected their lives. This was show a couple of times in the book, but then it went back to the social and political climate, which gets difficult to read after a while, whi ...more
Kate
The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher encompasses an interesting time within a very oddly structured book. I’ve read quite a few historical fiction novels about the plague (see The Year of Wonders) and I’ve skimmed through a few history books about the subject, but I’ve never seen one combined. Clearly, Hatcher was attempting to appeal to those interested in the thoughts and feelings of individuals that rarely get got recorded in the fourteenth century, but also provide a popular h ...more
erock
DONE! Finally, I thought it would never end. I gave it two stars because it is an interesting read after you drag yourself through the first half. Once the Plague comes to town it starts to really get interesting. What's most fascinating in this book is the interplay between the wealthy landowners and the peasant class before, during, and after the run of the plague. This book only covers the outbreak in and around 1350.

Nearly all of the docudrama stories that were about anyone other than the '
...more
Meaghan
The author had a good idea here -- a "docudrama" of the Black Death in a small English village, using known historical facts and records to reconstruct things as they would have been. However, the book turned out to be far more document than drama.

Hatcher is a professional historian and I believe his research to be unimpeachable. In particular I liked the way he showed just how deeply religion was embedded into ordinary people's lives in those days. But he doesn't really seem to know how to writ
...more
Siria
This isn't a bad book, but it is an odd one. In The Black Death: A Personal History, Hatcher sets out to show the effects which the Black Death had on one small village: Walsham in Suffolk, England. Of course, there is one big drawback to this approach: while Walsham is unusually well-documented for the fourteenth century, it still has nowhere near the amount or kind of surviving documentation which would allow a historian to write a thorough micro-history of what its inhabitants went through du ...more
Victoria
This was an inventive insight in to the history of the devastating plague that wiped out half the population during the middle ages. Written in a semi fictional style, Hatcher has presented the Black Death through the lives of one village and has clearly shown the absoloute chaos and heartbreak it caused. The focus on religion and the idea that the plague had been sent by God to punish mankind is a central part of what the village (and the entire world) believed at the time and Hatcher's focus o ...more
Shuffy2
What was everyday life like in the village of Walsham in the mid-fourteenth century? Now add the Black Plague and how does it change the composition of the village hierarchy?[return][return]A very detailed description of the various fears leading up to the arrival of the disease, the spread of the disease and finally the repercussions of the crippling plague. The opening of each chapter offers a brief history of actual events and then 'recounts' the day-to-day life of the various ficticious memb ...more
A.C.
Feb 16, 2009 A.C. rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Medieval enthusiasts
I freepiled this book when I was last at NPR. It's a pretty academic but nonetheless interesting account of the Black Plague in medieval England. I wouldn't recommend it to the average reader, but it wasn't too terrible either. Hatcher has trouble escaping entirely from an academic style of writing, which is a major detraction for somebody who is looking for your more traditional historical fiction. Moreover he is of the assumption that his efforts to write in this particular fashion are unique. ...more
Christa
This book was awesome! Each chapter starts out by delineating how the story fits into recorded history about the plague (the italicized portion of the chapter). The rest of the chapter brings that history down to a personal level - how did King X's edict effect the lives of the everyday English villager. It certainly addressed some questions that I'd had: How much did people know about the plagues process through Europe (did they see it coming?) and it's massive scale? Did they know that it was ...more
Trawets
John Hatcher's The Black Death is set in the Suffolk village of Walsham between 1348 and 1350, based on characters in official records it recreates the events before, during and after the "Pestilence".
Walsham like many communities lost about half it's population to the the Black Death and as well as giving us great insight into the wave of religous hysteria before it arrived John Hatcher's book is fascinating when dealing with the after-effects of the plague.
The halving of the population led to
...more
Sarah
The author explains in his introduction what he's writing here - a fictionalised history. It's not a novel, in the sense that it isn't about a plot and character development and so on; but it is presented as a story with dialogue and so on.
It's based on genuine historic sources for many of the facts, but the detail of events can never be know - who said what to whom and when, for example. I found it a really enjoyable way to learn the basics of the Black Death, and I think concentrating on one v
...more
Allison Glass
Pretty good book. It definitely takes a different perspective on the Black Plague than I ever thought of. However, Hatcher does not always do a successful job of straddling between fiction and nonfiction. He leaves me wondering how much is true while insufficiently fleshing out his main characters. Overall, the best part of the book for me were the strictly nonfiction forwards.
Anne Earney
If this had been the first book I read about the Black Death, I probably would have liked it more, but as it is the third, I felt I'd already heard the story before. And I certainly could have done with the sermons. But the end, about what happened after the plague with blurred social class lines and a reduced labor force was pretty interesting and not something I'd read about before. The mix of fiction and history was fine, except for those sermons.
Chrissy
Personalizing the Black Death is a great concept. but not one very well carried out.
In truth there was very little by way of giving any sense of personality to any of the active 'characters'.

The hardest part of getting through the book; however was the preambles before every bleeding chapter. On average there were two pages worth of explanations of what was about to be covered in the chapter only to have the same info come up with in the chapter. It was boring and repetitive.

This was only recuse
...more
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