erock's Reviews > The Black Death: A Personal History

The Black Death by John Hatcher
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Aug 09, 2012

it was ok
Read from August 09 to September 13, 2012

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 'main character' were compelling. Those which contained the 'main character', a pious to the point of farce town priest, were just hard to care about because no one, especially not in the 1300's, was that selflessly pious. His character was wooden, wholly uninteresting, and two-dimensional.

I would prefer to give this book 2.5 stars as it is exactly one half interesting and one half boring-ass lame. If you can take the village priest and get through the endless chapters in which he plays a role, you could learn something.

And don't give me that "well the church played a major role in the daily lives of these people during this time period" shtick. I know it did and I would find the priest's story passably believable if he were more than a caricature of a "humble, pious, priest" who is written as 100% selfless. He is wholly devoted to saving the souls of his congregation and thoughts of himself or his personal feelings are hardly touched on, if at all.
Since he has no self awareness, no fears, and little to no personality, half of the book is like sitting in a waiting room waiting for something, anything to be even the slightest bit interesting.

Of course they're are some decent moments. Now, the idea of a docudrama is compelling and could be an incredible book about the subject at hand, but this one isn't all that compelling. There is some factual data in there that is of interest and some of the dramatized stories catch the eye, but the book was too torn between presenting introductory 'facts', the priest angle (which falls flat), the class relations, and the scourge of the Plague itself.

Had it focused on the fiction, assuming, or at least assimilating the 'facts' into the narrative it would have worked better. Much better. A cohesive story about a village in peril with characters you get to know and care about would make more sense. The attempt to personalize the Plague outbreak of the mid 14th century into tidbits of dramatic fiction to make it more accessible or compelling doesn't work in this book. It still reads like a non-fiction but with a weird staccato rhythm that you can't ever get into. That and you want push the priest character down the stairs since he is so amazingly boring.
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