Customer Reviews: A Journal of the Plague Year (Dover Thrift Editions)
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on April 16, 2013
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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on July 9, 2012
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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on May 23, 2014
I was torn between rating this a 3 or a is an interesting account of the plague written 60 years after the fact. A Journal of the Plague Year is written in a journalistic style which is interesting - but it is not broken into chapters or sections - which makes it heavy going. I thought the content of the book brought up many interesting facts, conditions, concerns of the time - such as shutting up people in their houses should someone fall ill. As other people have remarked - the content of the book has an authority that makes it seem as if Defoe was alive when the plague was raging - but he was not.

The style of writing is old (understandably).

It is worth considering if interested in plagues or London history...but for such a small book it took a lot of time to get through it.
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on November 22, 2014
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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on October 25, 2013
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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on September 20, 2012
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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on March 15, 2014
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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on April 19, 2016
This is such an excellent first-person account of the 1665 London Plague. It was written many years later but it reads like a real first-person account. I feel as if i'm walking the streets with the narrator; hearing what he hears; smelling 1665 London; reading the notices for quack potions posted by unscrupulous salesmen on building walls.

The descriptions of the various laws put in place to control the spread of the infection; the reasoning behind the laws; the manner in which the laws were enforced, is a fascinating read. You also get an idea of the multitude of jobs - the cottage industry of professions - that sprung up around controlling and treating people with the plague. Even in 1665, people had some good ideas for controlling the spread of infection although they lacked an understanding of microbes. For example, instead of handing money over for groceries, the money would be placed in a jar of vinegar. People would go to the countryside for "air". I continually kept placing myself in the shoes of the narrator - wondering what I would have done - and whether I would have perished.

It's also fascinatinig to hear the narrator debating whether he should flee to the countryside as common sense indicated, or remain behind in the city under the protection of God. Or did God mean to have kept him alive while so many others perished, in order for him to use his mind and flee? The narrators discussion with himself is a wonderful read.

This is one of the most thought provoking books i've had the fortune of reading. I even found myself looking up the London streets and buildings that the narrator describes. Many of these streets and buildings still exist today according to google maps! I resolved to visit some of those places some day in the future, book in hand. I highly recommend this book - especially if you are at all interested in history. You may already know that people are the same everywhere - but this book proves that people are the same at every time, as well.
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on December 14, 2013
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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on March 29, 2013
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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