Joshua's Reviews > Dancing Plague

Dancing Plague by John Waller
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Sep 27, 14

Read from July 16 to 22, 2012 — I own a copy, read count: 1

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 especially interested in the fact that the priests gave the choreomaniacs red shoes when they reached the shrine of St. Vitas, which I'd never heard before. I was glad Waller brought up Snow White and Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes later on in the book, since those were the first things that came to mind when I read about the shoes.
He certainly does a good job of describing the world and society of 16th century Strasbourg, which certainly helps when trying to understand how large masses of people could simply be compelled to dancing, not infrequently to their deaths. I also think his explanation is highly plausible, and to a certain extent, even more mystifying than the 16th century explanation. The notion that our minds, regardless of our own will, could forcing something like the dancing mania upon us is partially awe-inspiring and partially terrifying.
I'd say this is definitely worth reading if you're at all interested in Medieval to early Modern history, the history of diseases, mental illness, or just really weird phenomenon. It's not highly academic, though certainly not low-brow. Still, if you're looking for something more academic, you'd probably find it in his notes, so it's worth picking up, at least.
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