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When Plague Strikes: The Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  202 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Compassionate and arresting, this exploration of three major diseases that have changed the course of history—the bubonic plague, smallpox, and AIDS—chronicles their fearsome death toll, their lasting social, economic, and political implications, and how medical knowledge and treatments have advanced as a result of the crises they have occasioned. "A book that would serve ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 11th 1997 by HarperCollins (first published October 1st 1995)
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Will Byrnes
Oct 29, 2008 rated it liked it
This is a young adult book, 10 and up about the big three of the title. It is filled with interesting facts and is written in an easy to read style. I learned some new things from it. It could have been a bit stronger about potential future problems, but that may be a factor of its publication date. Much has happened since then.

James Cross Giblin, a renowned children's author and editor, passed away in April, 2016 at age 82 - image from the NY Times
Dec 14, 2010 rated it liked it
Can you imagine a plague that killed half of the known world? This happened three times, when the Black Death struck Europe, when AIDS struck Africa and America, and when smallpox struck Asia. The definition of the word plague is: an epidemic disease that causes high mortality, very contagious. This book, When Plague Strikes by: James Cross Giblin, taught me that these three plagues definitely fall into this definition. The Black Death was transferred from fleas and rats as well as human intera ...more
In this young adult nonfiction book, James Cross Giblin discusses three diseases: the Black Death, smallpox, and AIDS. Giblin provides a history of each one, and there is little overlap between the histories, so they could be read separately. The sections on the Black Death and smallpox were interesting, informative, and clear. Unfortunately, I found myself writing critical notes while I read the section on AIDS. Like the other sections, it was interesting. Unlike the other sections, it wasn’t a ...more
I was reading "Disease: The Extraordinary Stories Behind History's Deadliest Killers" by Mary Dobson as preperation for my EFL class with the theme of sickness and health, and someone saw it and commented that one of his students was reading this book at the lunch table. I borrowed this from the student in question and was impressed by the clarity and simplicity of the writing. Although the three diseases are described in detail, their complexity is made very understandable. I have ordered it fo ...more
Michelle Kwait



This book goes into the origins, symptoms, cures (and possible cures), along with the cultural significance of the Black Plague, Smallpox, and AIDS-- with a small section on what diseases may already be surfacing for the next epidemic. Often, Giblin focuses on the victims, from the personal level of hemophiliac Ryan White, to the mass scale of black plague victims left in the streets, with the sick literally walled into their homes with their fam
Ellen Broadhurst
Oct 03, 2011 rated it liked it
I have absolutely no idea why this book ended up on my "to-read" list. It was available at my local library, so I borrowed it. It's not a terrible book, but best suited for a middle-schooler learning about about plague behaviors. Unfortunately, completely dated now that we have Ebola as a real life 'next' plague. So, 3-stars.
Michael Lambrecht
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book When Plague Strikes by James Cross Giblin is a book about The Black Plague, Smallpox, and AIDS. The Black Plague or Bulbonic Plague was a plague that killed half of the citizens of Europe and killed thousands more. It was so devastating that it wiped out both the Aztecs and the Incas. Smallpox first originated in Egypt but the Egyptians managed to free themselves of it. Later on, explorers went into the tomb of a long dead smallpox infected pharaoh and spread the disease to civilians.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
A good introduction for younger readers, but there are better options for adults.
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A nonfiction book on endemics, epidemics, the Black Plague, Pneumonic Plague, Smallpox and AIDS. A descriptive and factual telling of these diseases occurring around the world.
Steven Belanger
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is an excellent primer for anyone interested in plagues. I read this to research The Gravediggers, and while it didn't teach me anything new (except exact names and dates), it does put many of my novel's themes in the same place for ease when I'm writing.

Essentially it focuses on the social, political and historical aftermath of the plague outbreaks. I like that it groups AIDS together with the Black Death, as my novel does, and that it connects the social biases at the times as well.
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was very interesting. I liked how the author actually wrote the book; as in his writting style. I loved the way he breifly described things in a short span, in which you actually understood what he was explaining and it was easy to follow. There was alot that I learned in this book and some things that I learned more about that I vagely knew. Or thought I knew. I found this book very entertaining because I like to learn about things like this. For the historical aspect of it ...more
Jan 18, 2010 added it
When Plague Strikes
James Cross Giblin
Pages 244
ISBN: 0064461955

When Plague Strikes is a book about the plague that went around in Europe in the medieval era that killed almost 60% of the population. The ebook was split into 3, each one about a major plague of the time. The first section describes how the bubonic plague would affect a human and kill in a matter of days, and how people were panicking to get out of the cites at the time. The book goes into the point of view of a citizen living in an
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
When Plague Strikes by James Cross Giblin is a nonfiction book about three of the most deadly diseases. It talks about Black Death that started in 430 B.C. and killed millions of people in Europe, smallpox in 250 A.D. that killed or left many kids scarred for life in all parts of the world, and the most current disease AIDS that slowly kills the immune system.
When Plague Strikes is similar to all the nonfiction books. The book contains lots of information on the timeline of the diseases and ho
Jul 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I liked this one more than I expected to. Nonfiction, no pictures, reasonably long, no pictures. The only thing that drew me in at first was the title. I was prepared to be bored.

I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the book. It wasn't just a recitation of facts. Nor was it a narrative, but it had enough of a story telling feel to keep me interested. It had a lot of interesting stories about the various diseases and went through the progression of each disease. I learned many thing
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't put this book down. I read it in one sitting, fascinated to learn more about the ways different plagues spread and how they affected (by this mean I killed), so many people. Terrifying, but also 100% interesting. By the time I finished the book, it seemed like a miracle so many of us are still alive.

Also, I never would have thought to put AIDS in the same category as the Black Death and Smallpox before reading this book, but Giblin makes a strong argument for AIDS being an epidemic of
It was an interesting book, but I felt that the treatment of each disease was really very superficial. The author described a little bit about the time period, the symptoms of the disease, where it started and how it was spread and how the medical and/or religious community attempted to treat it. There was a little bit of discussion about how the plague affected society but nearly enough, in my opinion. I was hoping for a much more comprehensive look at how societies managed and were changed by ...more
Apr 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: teen, non-fiction
not particularly light reading (i was searching for intriguing non-fiction for my favoreads project), but rather interesting. i’m not sure if it’s right for the age group i’m creating the list for as some of the aids section might be considered controversial (fancy that) and i’m not sure if “disease” would really appeal to the kids for reading material, but definitely interesting reading. also interesting to see how looooong some of these diseases were around.
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: student-books
Non fiction. Compares three plagues, Black Death, Smallpox and Aids to explain advances in science, historical significance and the impacts on societies through the ages. I would use excerpts of this book to use as example of narrative nonfiction. Also a good example of showing cycles and patterns in history and how we use history to help us learn to solve future problems. Large index in the back as well as source notes and bibliography.
Adela Zhou
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books ever and one of only around 10 nonfiction books that i have completely read through. James Cross Goblin explains everything in a way that keeps the reader captivated yet informs them at the same time. I’ve read this book through twice and the information about AIDS, bubonic plague, smallpox and the viruses/bacteria that cause them continue to shock me. Anyone who’s interested in the history and future of disease needs to read this!
Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a great young adult non-fiction selection! Great explanations of the Black Death, smallpox and AIDS complete with lots of gory details and discussions of viruses and bacteria. Teachers who use this book in their classrooms would find a plethora of ways to integrate it in multiple subject areas.
Sep 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic journey through some of the most devastating diseases in world history. I love the way Giblin writes! He takes potentially boring, technical material and transforms it into a masterful story which could engage even the most reluctant reader. Can't wait to read some of his other titles which are listed opposite the title page.
Sep 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I know people think I'm weird, but I think the history of The Plauge is really interesting. I'm a sociology nerd. This is written for teens and a very easy, helpful book for being a history of a heavy topic. I hate to admit it, but just finished reading it for the second time.
Stacy Simpson
Jan 21, 2011 rated it liked it
It taught me a few things about early medicine that I didnt know. Gross things too! Dont recommend reading this before bed however because I dreamed of being at work with people comin in with the plague not cool!
Aug 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Great history of the plagues that have affected various communities and the world as a whole. Not usually a fan of non-fiction, but written in an easy to read and "fun" if plague can be considered fun, manner.
May 07, 2011 added it
Feb 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-author, 1999
Amazing Author!
Dana Lowe
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Read because wanted a better understanding of disease.
Hannah Givens
Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
A basic introduction to three global plagues, the Black Plague, smallpox, and AIDS. Informative and detailed, and a quick read. I still remember a lot of what I learned from this book.
Teheran Joyner
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I Liked This Book It Was One Of The First Books That I read In Highschool
Vincent Chen
Dec 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
James Giblin illustrates how infectious disease ravaged many of history's civilizations. The book was very informative, as well as interesting.
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(July 8, 1933 - April 10, 2016)

Born on July 8th, James Cross Giblin was, in his own words, "shy, bookish, and a little spoiled." He loved comic books and drew his own comic strips. Giblin worked on his school newspapers and wrote a play while he was at Western Reserve University. That play, My Bus Was Always Late, was published in 1954. He worked hard at writing plays, but disappointment followed.
More about James Cross Giblin...

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