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The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  326 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Many of us know the Black Death as a catastrophic event of the medieval world. But the Black Death was arguably the most significant event in Western history, profoundly affecting every aspect of human life, from the economic and social to the political, religious, and cultural. In its wake the plague left a world that was utterly changed, forever altering the traditional ...more
Audible Audio, 12 pages
Published May 27th 2016 by The Great Courses
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4.27  · 
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 ·  326 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Clif Hostetler
Jun 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, lecture
If I'm ever in a time machine facing the decision of what time in history to visit, I think I'll avoid Europe in the years 1347 to 1353, the years of the black death. The death toll in different communities varied from twenty to eighty percent with an overall average of fifty percent. These twenty-four lectures provide a thorough description of what we know about history's worst pandemic.

It's agonizing for a twenty-first century reader to read about all the possible causes for the black death th
Cindy Rollins
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, lectures
My friend, Martha Spotts, mentioned she was listening to these lectures and I found them at our library site. I found the whole series fascinating and a bit confusing too, lots of speculation that maybe rats/fleas did not cause plaque but then lots of assumptions that they did, for one.

I loved the Professor’s voice and attitude and her book recommendations!
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is only available via audiobook, and I picked it up on a Great Courses 2 for 1 sale and I liked this book a lot.

This plays to peoples morbid curiosity about horrors that have happened in the past, sometimes you can feel detached from epidemics that have happened long ago in history because we've come to feel in modern times with the leaps in medicine and technology that we're out of the danger zone for mass wipe outs of our population.

We're really not out of the danger zone yet, and with
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was so very interesting. I was hooked with the Black Plague theme but I didn't know how engaging this course would be. There were so many fascinating aspects of this time period, not the disease but the way people tried to explain it and cure it and contain it and just to figure a way to go on with their lives when they were in the middle of what felt like the apocalypse. Very much recommended.
Nathanael Roy
Jun 30, 2018 rated it liked it
The Black Death, or The Plague, or The Great Mortality was a moment in the history of the western world which quickly and drastically altered demographics of the time. It overturned social structures and set about major changes in power dynamics among those in the western world. The plague shifted the role of women, religion, and social ties in western society enough to set in motion or accelerate trends that would shape the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment with effects even into today. The ...more
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
One definition of 'plague' is: "a virulent contagious febrile disease that is caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) and that occurs in bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic forms — called also black death." While this definition is certainly accurate, it fails to express the utter horror of a fast moving sickness that wiped-out nearly half of the world's population (at least in the western...modern, in some cases, nearly overnight. Moreover, those nasty bacteria are still with us. ...more
John Martindale
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, audiobook
This was one of the best Great Courses series I've gone through. I really liked the professor and the subject matter was fascinating.

I often found myself wide-eyed and occasionally tearing up. It was horrific to consider what it would be like to be surrounded by so much death, fear and confusion. Its grieves me to consider the faith crisis these deeply believing folks would have been plunged them in, in part due to having a world-view so out-of-alignment with the reality of God's hand-off approa
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
1347-1353 was the years that the plague first came to Western Europe. Mortality rates varied from 20-80% with the average being 50%. Entire families, and in some cases villages die in a matter of days. Armstrong traces the causes of the the Black Death, the infection route both geographically and physically and its vast impact and implications for medieval and modern life.

Why I started this book: Struggling with the books that I should read, so I picked one up just for fun.

Why I finished it: Arm
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was simply tremendous.

There was so much background, detail, and information about how all of the plague affected the entire world.

Professor Armstrong impressed me throughout the entire course.

For me, this was a follow-on to John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.

Highly recommended.
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Almost everything the average medieval history buff would want to know about the Black Death - from its probable causes to its significant impact on the world - is here in these lectures. I found this course fascinating, and Dorsey Armstrong is an excellent speaker. She has a skill with languages, too, and I loved hearing her read Middle English!
Anthony Meaney
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the great courses there is so much content it is overwhelming.

I picked this one because I am fascinated with Medieval History. I only knew a little about the "Black Death" and this course filled in a lot of blanks. From the theories of the original "patient zero" to the idea that there may have been other disease outbreaks concurrent with the plague that killed just as many people (apparently 20% of Europeans now have a natural immunity to HIV). This course is full of fascinating informa
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So. Good. This is what college lectures should all be like. I wouldn't need vat after vat of coffee to keep me awake after work.
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great topic, great author. So much interesting stuff in here. Who knew that massive amounts of death could be so fun?
Emmy Gregory
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really interesting and informative lecture series. The tutor is engaging and very knowledgeable. Definitely one of the better Great Courses.

I do have one small quibble with it which is why it's only four stars, and it really relates to the last lecture of the series in which the tutor broadens the whole thing up to consider the issue of pandemics and deadly disease across human history. This lecture seems so, well, white-people-focused, that it's quite jarring. I sat there thinking "a
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am still in Chapter 3 going to 4 but the book is really good and the audiobook is EXCELLENT
Read - listened to the book (simultaneously... it's no joke) and I still go with my first assessment. EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-books, history
A lot of repetition between the lectures, but otherwise good.
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Loved this book. So well researched, so thorough, so well put together. What a wonderful presenter. I know the topic in this book is not lovely, or happy, but I learnt so much about this period of time during this read.
I've never found the plague a particularly interesting topic, but I decided to listen to this lecture, partly because I needed something to listen to and it was available, partly because I had just listened to another interesting lecture series by the same professor, and partly because I had read something about European demographics and how the plague ultimately had a positive impact on living conditions for the majority of people who survived and I wanted to learn more.

This is a useful overvie
Robert Bor
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
There is not quite an epidemic as impressive in its utter destructiveness as the Black Death aka The Great Mortality. The lectures take a broad look at the epidemic. Not only does it explain the various theories on pestis yersiana, it also looks at the ramifications for the societies stricken by death tolls around 50%.

The biggest hit of the plague was the first wave. Less well known is that after the disease burned itself out, it kept hitting Europe every one to two decades for three full centu
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I almost always enjoy The Great Courses lectures, and this offering on the Black Death was no exception. It's a subject of morbid curiosity for many of us, but more than that, this catastrophic, mysterious epidemic dramatically changed not only the lives of those unfortunates who experienced it, but altered the very nature of European society. Many scholars, Dorsey Armstrong among them, believe that the appearance and repeated return of this deadly infection was the catalyst which transformed th ...more
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Back when I first listened to Professor Armstrong's lecture on turning points in the Middle Ages, I remembered her lecture on the Black Death distinctly. Specifically, I remember wishing that it was longer!

Our wish has been granted in this dazzling lecture, which leaves out none of the horror and desperation of the time, and seeks to give us an equivalent in our minds - Professor Armstrong often references the world of the television series/comic "The Walking Dead" to help us imagine a plague-ra
Jackie Debs
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
I usually love the great courses series, and the Black Death is by far one of my favorite subjects, but this one was simply bad.

Professor Armstrong is just not very good at this. She comes off as downright condescending much of the time and you get the sense that she believes she is teaching a bunch of teenagers. She makes constant silly, and needless pop culture references and parallels, and seems to retread the same few points and facts endlessly.

By the end, I felt like I spent a ton of time
Jeff Beardsley
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, study
This has been my absolute favorite of The Great Courses lectures that I have completed so far. There is so much history here that was unknown to me; there are so many stories of the Plague as it spread throughout Europe that I had never heard before. Most important was the discussion of the effect of the plague on following European history in general. It changed everything. The lecturer is very entertaining and informative. This is one lecture series that you should be able to breeze through ea ...more
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The lectures were sometimes repetitive, but when you're trying to learn and remember, that's not necessarily bad. While focused mostly on a seven year period (1347-53), the book does put the black death in to a larger historical context. I actually learned quite a bit about society outside of the plague, which was necessary in order to truly understand the plague itself.

Unlike some of the other great courses, this one didn't refer to visual material that you can't see.
Viewed from many different cultural and political aspects, this course kept me interested the entire way through, adding so much to my knowledge of the period. I particularly enjoyed the analysis of the effects on both economics and art, and also the detailed information on plague in all parts of Europe.
Cathy Smith
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The professor was passionate about her subject and that came across very clearly.
It was largely up-to-date in terms of current scholarship as far as I can tell.
She spoke clearly and her arguments seemed sound.
Matthew M
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I never knew I could derive so much enjoyment from learning about The Great Mortality.
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-ages
Well done, but a good deal is repeated from one lecture to another.
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was only available to as an audiobook. This was well research and gave a great overview and insight of the Black Death or should I say the Blue sickness.
Sarah Hoov
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent covers everything you've heard about during the black plagues but goes into deeper detail of it.
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Dr. Dorsey Armstrong is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she has taught since 2002. The holder of an A.B. in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from Duke University, she also taught at Centenary College of Louisiana and at California State University, Long Beach. Her research interests include m ...more