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A Journal of the Plague Year (Dover Thrift Editions)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2013
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I must admit to a morbid fascination with accounts of natural disasters, harrowing exploration tales and historical plagues. This ostensibly first-hand account of the 1665 visitation of the Black Death upon London, written by Daniel DeFoe, certainly fits nicely into that genre. I say "ostensibly", because while Defoe was alive at the time of the event, he was a very young child and wrote this work in 1722. Therefore, while we can be assured that many of the accounts therein are largely accurate, it would be stretch to label it as strictly non-fiction.

This is not a spellbinding or even captivating read. It is full of statistics and seemingly never ending references to specific neighborhoods and precincts as existed in London at the time. Much of the book is taken up with body counts and comparisons of mortality from time to time in the different areas of London and its environs. As most people have no geographic knowledge of the area, this is largely wasted, except to realize that, "Gee, a lot of people died in Whiteside, but not so many in Wapping."

Sprinkled throughout this relatively short work (under 200 dense pages), are interesting anecdotes, and this is the beauty of the book; the actions and reactions of everyday people to the scourge within their midst. How did the authorities address the problem? What was the medical knowledge and prevailing treatments as existed at the time? What did people in London do when commerce and society effectively broke down? What did they do to acquire food? How were the bodies disposed of? All intriguing and practical questions that are asked and answered herein.

Given the factual and dry nature of most of the prose, coupled with the early 18th century writing style, I cannot recommend this work to the casual reader or one looking strictly for entertainment or to pass the time. Even an aficionado of the genre will likely be hard pressed to profess an unreserved endorsement of the book as anything other than what it is; a dry, at times enlightening, account of the Black Death's impact on the city and citizens of London, written in close proximity to the event itself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2013
Format: Paperback
A Jour­nal of the Plague Years by Daniel Defoe is a fic­tional book about the Great Plague of Lon­don in 1665. The book was pub­lished in 1722 (57 years after the event) and was meant as a warn­ing because they thought that plague in Mar­seilles would cross the chan­nel into England.

A Jour­nal of the Plague Years by Daniel Defoe is a nov­el­iza­tion of a first hand expe­ri­ence dur­ing the Black Death plague in Lon­don. This book is very dif­fi­cult to cat­e­go­rize because the reader doesn't really know if it is a mem­oir or not.

Is it fic­tion?
Doesn't read like it, from what I read it seems that Defoe fic­tion­al­ized his uncle's memoirs.

Is it non-fiction?
It might be, after all it seems that... Defoe fic­tion­al­ized his uncle's memoirs.

What­ever it is, the book gives the reader an eerie, haunt­ing, dark sense of Lon­don in 1665 when the plague ran amok bring­ing a dis­as­ter upon the cap­i­tal. One can get a very good feel­ing of what it was at the time, the peo­ple, and the land­scapes and how peo­ple spoke.

Much of the book is sta­tis­tics and there is not really a coher­ent sto­ry­line, it is more of a nov­el­iza­tion of a diary and a hand­book of what do and what to avoid dur­ing the deadly out­break. It is sim­ple to read and has an air of under­ly­ing author­ity, espe­cially given the weekly death sta­tis­tics. Defoe issues a stern warn­ing with those death sta­tis­tics, upon close exam­i­na­tion one could tell how fast the virus is spreading.

This book is best read as his­tor­i­cal fic­tion novel that mixes fact and fic­tion. Defoe was a very young boy (5) at the time of the plague and used mor­tal­ity bills and con­tem­po­rary accounts for the book
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I was fascinated by this psuedo-journal. It is not Defore's real work, but a compilation of journals of various people and their experience during the second major London plague.
The wbook can be considered as a textbook even today. The information on attempts on control the progress of the disease, the medical understanding on how it was transmitted and the progress in an individual can be a basis for understanding plague and like infectious diseases today.
What I found riveting is the desperation at different levels of society. The poorest people were forced to carry the dead to burial in order to earn money for food thus exposing themselves to higher levels of contagion. Then there were the people who were shut up after finding that a member or two had the disease. The attempts and successes to get free and escape (or not) are described. Then too there are sections on religion and the attitude toward ministers and priests who elected to stay and pray with people and those that fled.
Finally the reporting of the disease and the probable underreporting. All of this would be played out even today with a highly infectious disease especially in poor countries. The only advantages we have now is the ability to identify the virus and start a process to create a cure. However the spread of bad information and quack cures is very similar to what existed (or worse) because of the internet and the social process of passing on misinformation.
I gave the book a four and considered a three rating for the following reasons:
1) It is very hard to read. It has not been "translated" to modern English and the sentences are stilted and some of the words are very out-of-date or have changed meaning.
2) It is repetitious because of the compiling of the journals into one. For example the lists of ill people ("bills" as they were called) are cited several times over and are very confusing. The point that they were not reliable was repeated several times.
3) The progress of the disease from one place to another and from one month to another is confusing. A map and an organized timetable along with the journals would have greatly improved the work.
I found myself skipping over many paragraphs because of the wording.
In spite of this, if you are interested in plagues and the spread of major diseases from a social or psychological point of view, it is worth ploughing through to get a feeling of the horror of the numbers, the transmission of the disease and the reactions to the threat from both a community and personal point of view.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
Fiction it might be, though apparently based on the diaries of his uncle Henry Foe (the H.F. who purportedly authors the account) Daniel Defoes "Journal of the Plague Year" is a fascinating account of the Bubonic plague that struck London in the year 1665.

While essentially a work of fiction, the level of detail, the statistics, anecodotes and endless conjecturing give the work a strong semblance of veracity. The reader is compelled to read on through the terrifying details of a plague that in all probability took around 100,000 lives during the year that it raged. One of the interesting features of the book is the conflict between science and religion, is a continuous thread throughout. Defoes author H.F. writes in a profoundly religous tone, early on in the book a group of mocking aetheists who coarsely drink and curse their way through the plague are, each and everyone, struck down and deposited in the communal grave before two pages are out. At the same time there is a recognition of scientific attempts to understand and control the plague, the shutting up of houses is much discussed as well as the variety of "preventatives" that offer protection from infection. Much of the book is given over to a variety of speculations, and given the state of medical science at the time of writing a good many of the conjectures verge on the amusing. The author even tells of one theory, of small organisms in the blood, only to scoff at it while the modern reader may sense as good a description of bacteria as that age could furnish.

A good deal of the facts are horrifying, whole families dying, the nightly horse and cart patrols to collect the dead for communal graves, people maddened by the infection running through the streets unhindered, the dying screams of those shut up in their homes to die. It is a puzzle at first where they find men to collect the dead and women to nurse the sick until later in the book the author contemplates the plight of the poor. It simply seems that if they did not take these jobs they would have starved to death as all other industry and employment had ground to a halt, the risk of dying of the plague seemed a better bet than the certainty of dying of starvation.

Definitely an interesting book though some may find the grotesque grammer and lengthy sentences a little too much. The edition I purchased was from Dover classics and consisted of just the journal itself and I felt my ability to get the most from the book was undermined by not having the additional context that a good set of footnotes and introduction should provide.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2013
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The author of Robinson Crusoe is famous for sounding like non-fiction. This is a detailed (I mean hour-to-hour, day-to-day, detailed) journal of the 1666 plague in London. It's interesting as history, and if you're in a medical field it would be particularly interesting. The narrator of this early 1700s book purports to have lived through the 1666 plague. The author was actually a child in London in 1666. Among the things I learned: a few doctors had the crazy idea that animals so tiny you couldn't see them flew from person to person spreading disease; plague victims got painful swellings called buboes (where I assume our word "boo boo" comes from); modern-type newspapers emerged not long after the plague ("We didn't have newspapers in that day to spread the news quickly and enlarge upon it"); the symptoms of plague; public health measures; the author's advice against repeating what he views as the mistake of trying to quarantine people.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2013
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a brilliant book, the reader is right there in th 17th century expirencing the truck loads of bodies that died every day. "Let it not be said London never buried her dead". is one of the most chilling lines in literature. a maid would go to market, catch the plague, bring it home, and four days later the entire family of seven would be dead. that is how fast it moved. the Bubonic Plague, one of the worse chapters in history, in London. let it not be forgotten that London was was a lusty, crowded town of people when the plague hit in 1664. the only good thing about it was it killed you in 3 to 4 days, and that wasn't even fast enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2014
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This was a good read, and I really like how the author put numbers and showed the reader how many people were dead by the plague, and how he wrote the book! I had to read it for my class assignment, and I actually ended up liking it myself! I recommend it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2014
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The printing layout is beyond belief. Because no lines are skipped between paragraphs, it becomes a trial of reading page after page of solid print. I've enjoyed the first few pages but now will look for a more readable version.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2014
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This is a great book. More insight then anything I've read in the past. You come away feeling sadness for these people and their struggles with this terrible infliction.
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on November 23, 2014
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Daniel Defoe wrote this based on another's first hand account and added some artistic license but nevertheless it reads like a factual and at times terrifying account of how the citizens of London reacted to a horrific epidemic in the 17th century. At times it felt like I was reading an episode of the Walking Dead as people banded together in groups and tried to isolate themselves from infection. The book does start slowly with an accounting of the dead by section of the city over time to demonstrate the rapid spread of the disease and some of these passages may be a bit dry. However when the anecdotal stories of individuals and the narrator himself are related the book is remarkably tense and engaging despite some archaic language.
For anyone interested in the subject this is actually a more detailed and fascinating account than the one in Samuel Pepys diary of the same period. A short read but one that will truly result in an understanding of a dark episode in London's history.
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