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1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  838 ratings  ·  98 reviews
1666 was a watershed year for England. An outbreak of the Great Plague, the eruption of the second Dutch War, and the devastating Great Fire of London all struck the country in rapid succession and with devastating repercussions.

Shedding light on these dramatic events and their context, historian Rebecca Rideal reveals an unprecedented period of terror and triumph. Based i
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 18th 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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TBV (on semi-hiatus)
It started with tiny fleas, like those viewed under the microscope by Robert Hooke who was working on a project in which he created amongst other things, an 18-inch fold-out image of a magnified flea. Fleas which carried Yersinia pestis might be on board ship and would jump from transported goods onto living beings, in particular the black rat, Rattus rattus which then transported them onto land. These fleas were the bringers of plague. It was not the first time that England had experienced
K.J. Charles
A book about a year even worse that 2016/17 (at least if you were a Londoner). Who'd have thought.

This is really interesting. It's horizontal history instead of vertical, giving us a whole lot of different perspectives on the Great Plague, Great Fire and Anglo Dutch War, from the King down to merchants and printers passing various famous names on the way. It gives a much broader picture than the usual one of the nobility. And honestly I had no idea there was a war going on in 1665-6 at all, tha
Brendan O'Neill
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly readable romp through events in England in 1665 and 1666, covering the return of the Plague, the Anglo-Dutch Wars and of course the Fire of London. Historical detail rubs up against historical colour so that we are offered factual accounts of the Plague's grim impact and the extent of the Fire's damage alongside the diary recollections and eye-witness accounts of Pepys, John Evelyn, William Taswell and others. I found the youthful Taswell's thoughts the most moving, especially given ...more
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A breezy, readable overview of one of London's Annus Horribilis (really important to spell that right, it's a lot worse than a dodgy Jal Frezi), taking in plague, naval warfare with the French and Dutch and a very out of control barbeque, not to mention a whole load of royal scandals. A very nice, readable primer, which could do with a bit more detail on the country at large, but a good introduction to the restoration. And prefect for answering a seven year old's school questions on the Great Fi ...more
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history, 2019
A very accessible read on the year 1666 in British politics and also the lives of those living in London. I listened to the audiobook and finished it in a day and would definitely recommend it if you have an interest.
Karen Brooks
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An erudite and utterly readable account of a year that marked great change in London as it suffered the aftermath of the plague (which is covered really well), war with the Dutch and French, profound naval losses and threats, discord in parliament, the whims of a capricious king, and then the catastrophic Great Fire. Drawing from contemporary sources and well as recent research, Rideal's book is a terrific read for scholars or those with an interest in a fascinating and heart-wrenching period of ...more
Apr 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Over the period of 1665-1666 the city of London experienced a deadly plague, the impacts of a new Anglo-Dutch war and an inferno that would be forever known to history as the Great Fire of London. Many people died, many lost their homes and their livelihoods. This book looks at what happened and how it affected residents and the city itself. It's written in a way that's easily digestible and includes plenty of intriguing stories about those involved, both the well-to-do and the common folk. ...more
Zoe's Human
Dec 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rebecca Rideal has done an excellent job of presenting known history in a new light. She has made the events of 1666 more tangible by presenting known facts in a manner more readily grokked by the human mind. Rideal has also used the details of the current events of the time and of daily life to paint a clear image of time and place.

The war parts were my least favorite, but that has more to do with me having a stronger interest in plague and fire than the decisions of war. I suspect those with m
Dec 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Between March 1665 and the end of 1666 England suffered one catastrophic event after another. This is the story of that devastating time.

The British and The Dutch (allied with France) were entering their second war over trade routes and the colonies they both hungered to control. As men were being killed in battle, on the home front bubonic plague was ravaging the country. More than 100,000 people died from those events. Then, on September 2, 1666, London began to burn. The fire started in a bak
Helen Carolan
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Nothing new in this read,but entertaining none the less. Telling of the horrors that beset England over a twelve month period in 1666.
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received a free copy of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway.

I found this to be a very interesting book about a turbulent couple of years in British history - the plague and the Great Fire of London taking place during a period of war against the Dutch.

Rebecca Rideal describes in great detail the lives of Londoners of all social classes during these events drawing on firsthand accounts such as Pepys diaries.

The book brings home the horrors that people were subjected to at this time but goes
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I originally picked up this book because of my fascination for all things plague related (I know, morbid, right?!) But what started as a "I'll read and hope to stumble across new things about the plague" turned into me finding myself being completely fascinated by London in 1665/1666.

Structured wonderfully so you get a taste of society, culture, war and horror that London offered in the 17th century, I appreciate how something that has often been delivered in quite a dry way reads really easily
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-nonfic
God really said 'fuck the English' in 1666, and we didn't take the hint.

I really enjoyed this! It's a fascinating snapshot into one of the most turbulent years in English history. The author has a brilliant turn of phrase, and the pace gallops along without ever losing any of the information. My only problem was that when I reached the end, I wanted more!

Also, anyone else find it funny that you can tag for spoilers on non-fiction????

Hey everyone: London burns down.
Kate Vane
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
1666 tells the story of the Great Plague, the second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London through the eyes of the people who were there. It’s a seamless stitching together of perspectives and experiences into one dramatic and coherent story.

Characters recur, some well known, such as Pepys and Rochester and Margaret Cavendish (the subject of another recent book, Margaret the First) others less prominent – traders and preachers and bakers.

The strength of 1666 is its immediacy. You feel like you
Elizabeth Judd Taylor
Oct 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Maybe a 3.5--it could have been more detailed--but this was a good read so I'll round up. In a nutshell, this book is an overview of England in the tumultuous year of 1666, a year of war, plague, and of course the Great Fire of London. Starting with a look at 1665--the worst time for the plague, and also an important time for the Anglo-Dutch Wars--and then moving into the main subject of the book, 1666, the author introduces us to the famous, the rich, and the common people who experienced all t ...more
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An enjoyable read with vivid descriptions of the plague, fire, and naval combat. I especially like the latter as it is a subject rarely covered in histories to this depth. A shame that the author relied as far as I can tell on only English language sources and not Dutch sources.

A nice leavening of great man accounts with ordinary folk accounts, including women. All within the time scope of a single year. Definitely a popular history rather than a dry academic publication.

Minor criticisms:

1. Th
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting, most of what I have previously read about this era focuses (inevitably) on the Fire. This book give a a much broader view I was most interested in the accounts of the sea battles between the Dutch and the English. It is a book for the generalist not an academic book but for all that it is detailed and could provide a spring board for further reading.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book, well documented.
The writing is really good, with a lot of anecdotes about people people who lived in 1665-1666, which make the text even more "real".
I really enjoyed reading about the sea battles, actually you can almost read it like a novel because of how the author relates it.
Great book.
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyable history book. Dealt with an interesting period, the author did cheat a bit and included some off 1665. The last chapter summarised what happened to the main characters and encouraged you to read more about the period. Informative but easy to read.
Mar 21, 2017 rated it liked it
The sections dealing with the plague and the Fire of London were the best sections of the book. I found the section dealing with the Anglo-Dutch War a bit dry.
Jun 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting read. It covered the plague and how it was dealt with including implementing "pest houses" where they would send everyone that had the plague and the fact that when the rich left the cities most of the Doctors went with them. So that left the people who weren't well off to deal with this largely on their own.

It also covered the war between England and Holland and the massive London fire of the time. The author did a good job of presenting the historical facts while still making it i
Charlie Huenemann
This is a delightful read - and how often is that said about books on war, plague, and fire? Rideal writes with enough verve to keep the account moving forward but without becoming silly or melodramatic. The year 1666 was an explosion in many directions at once, and a crux in which modern London was born, and Rideal sees the developments at many levels - rich, poor, men, women, economic, cultural, and so on. She is especially skilled at recounting the sea battles between the English and Dutch.
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very interesting and well written telling of the events and personalities involved in the Great Fire of London.
Allan Kelly
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good history but generally did not sound too inspired to me. I guess it's the problem where the author's subject is so broad she has to describe everything and yet make the story gripping...

In a lot of ways, this read more like disjointed books on the different topics than as a single narrative of the year. That said, given the variable nature of the topics presented, there was probably no other method of describing these action anyways, making me think that perhaps they don't belong
Emmanuel Gustin
As a rule, I am inclined to avoid books that have years or ranges of years as their title. I tend to regard them as safety warnings on the cover of dreadfully dull books.

But 1666 is not dull, and "Plague, War and Hellfire" is an apt subtitle. It is written in a calm descriptive style, enlivened with numerous quotes from the letters and literature left by eye-witnesses. English imperturbability does not obscure the dramatic events recounted here, the deadly plague of 1665, the bloody but (up to
Norman Smith
May 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
This isn't a bad book, but I think it could be much better. For one thing, I think a couple of maps would have helped a lot to explain where the various naval battles were taking place, and to show the progress of the fire. In the latter case, a map might be unnecessary if you are familiar with London's geography, which I am not (especially the 17th century version of London).

I also found the author to be rather vague about the timing of the fire. We first hear of it when a message is sent to th
Willem van den Oever
A serious but very readable historic account of a particularly bad year for the city of London.
During the second half of 1665 and most of 1666, the British capital was successively struck by the plague, it was financially ruined by defeats during the Second Anglo Dutch War and then largely burned to the ground when a small spark in a baker’s oven reduced much of the wooden city to ash. It’s no wonder that by the end of these months, a lot of residents began looking to divine reasons for these se
Siobhan Johnson
I really enjoyed this while I was reading it, found it a really gripping and fascinating read... And have now come back to it 2 days later and realize that I can remember very little of what was covered. Oops?

For the most part this was a really enjoyable and informative book. It focuses on a period of history that I've always been fascinated by, and presents a lot of information that feels genuinely new. It taught me things, which is generally what you want from a non-fiction book. It was fresh,
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
1666 is a date that I have had stuck in my brain from a very young age. The year that the Great Fire of London destroyed the medieval heart of the city was really rather eventful for other reasons, it appears. As the years have gone on, I have become aware that there was a great plague in London at the time, but I didn't know quite how disastrously the Second Anglo-Dutch was was going or that the Restoration was balancing so perilously on a knife edge.
Rideal does a great job of thoroughly expla
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