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The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801884931
ISBN-10: 0801884934
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Mootes have written an extraordinary and insightful account of life in London during 1665, when nearly 100,000 people died of the plague. They detail the havoc unleashed upon the city and the efforts of the large number of people who stayed behind rather than fleeing. The Mootes apply their knowledge of history (Lloyd Moote) and microbiology (Dorothy Moote) to analyze the results of their original archival research, most notably the city's weekly "Bills of Mortality" and unpublished documents including publicly distributed pamphlets, personal correspondences, business ledgers and medical records. The story they tell is of two Londons, the working poor of the "alleys and cellars and tenements," and the rich, titled and merchant classes, and how they become "interdependent" during 1665. In a powerful narrative device, the authors often incorporate the words of real people, including Samuel Pepys, who continued risky business arrangements and a "wide range of exotic adventures"; Symon Patrick, the rector of metropolitan London's wealthiest congregation; and Nathaniel Hodges, a doctor who valiantly sought to find a cure for the disease in the face of popular healers selling self-proclaimed "wonder drugs," as well as outdated medical practices. The book also details how the Restoration government was woefully unprepared for dealing with the plague; an epilogue on the development of microbiology and antibiotic cures forcefully argues that modern society still needs to be better prepared for future infectious diseases.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New England Journal of Medicine

Plague killed millions, quickly. It terrified communities, families, and individuals. Plague put enormous pressure on social cohesion and economic activities. Beginning at the time of the Black Death, from 1347 to 1352, plague repeatedly visited Europe's populations until it died down in the 18th century. At each visitation of the deadly disease to a particular area, some 20 percent of the population died -- less than the devastation of the Black Death (which killed one third to one half of the populace), but still a catastrophic event. In England there were successive "Great Plagues," the most famous being the last one, in 1665. (Figure) In this excellent book, husband and wife Lloyd and Dorothy Moote, a historian and a biologist, respectively, have brilliantly captured the human, medical, and political dimensions of the Great Plague in London and the surrounding areas. They have succeeded in combining meticulous historical research and scholarship with an account of the plague that is full of human interest. Using the letters, diaries, and manuscripts of the famous (Samuel Pepys) and the obscure (apothecary William Boghurst), the authors convey the all-consuming fear of plague. They show how individuals and families responded to the dilemma of staying or fleeing. Flight, rather than medical measures, had been the preferred option ever since the Middle Ages. But flight left property and goods open to theft. Moreover, the poor, who also figure large in the book, often could not flee. They usually had no savings, and at a time of plague many of them became unemployed and destitute. Flight into the countryside with no money often meant being harried away from farms and villages by country people who were anxious to avoid contagion, so the runaways faced starvation and a lonely death. The administrative structure of London just about held out. Parish clerks stayed at their posts and compiled the bills of mortality that week by week listed the number of deaths from plague. In April 1665, 2 deaths were recorded; by August, there were more than 7000 in one week. The government played down the importance of the early deaths. But as the numbers rose, the king and the court left London. The mayor remained, with some aldermen and parish officials. They organized and enforced the controversial quarantine of infected houses, whereby people who were well were imprisoned with the sick. The officials distributed money and food to the sickly poor; they also paid for doctors to attend the sick and forked over money for some of the cures for plague that were being touted. Many doctors fled the plague, often justifying their actions by pointing out that they were following their clients. Some stayed, and the nonconformists in religion gained a lot of credit by remaining and looking after the poor. The authors note that the contagion was explained by intertwined religious and medical ideas. Plague was God's punishment for the sins of the community. But he acted through natural means. A plague poison, the theory went, was spread from person to person by breathing and by putrid fumes from cesspits, rotten food, and other sources of putrefaction. This theory legitimized prayer, the quarantining of people, and the cleaning up of the environment. However, nostrums were eagerly sought, and fear created hope, which in many cases was to be disappointed. In the book's epilogue, the authors discuss plague in terms of modern science. As to the much-debated question of whether 17th-century plague was caused by Yersinia pestis, the agent of modern plague that is transmitted by the rat flea and the body louse, the authors incline cautiously to the affirmative but await definitive DNA testing of the dental pulp of plague victims from the 1600s and before. There is much else in this book, including a narrative that is structured by vivid demographic and geographic descriptions linking deaths and places and a masterly account of the near, yet not complete, fracturing of London's economy. Above all, the stories of individual people facing the terror of the unknown make this a unique and very human history of the Great Plague. The authors draw us into the lives of Londoners as they graphically depict how plague touched and altered the residents' lives. By the end of this extremely readable, lively, and informative account, which is underpinned by enormous historical scholarship that is lightly worn, we can imagine what would happen if a similar disaster hit again. Human nature is relatively unchanging. The reactions to something like plague when medicine remains helpless and the burial grounds overflow would be, I suspect, the same across time. Andrew Wear, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2004 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 357 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (August 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801884934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801884931
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,417,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The word "plague" is one of the most dreaded in Europe. For over a thousand years, Europe was the victim of a series of epidemics which decimated the population. One of the last of these epidemics was the Great Plague of London in 1665 that killed probably a third of the population and left few families untouched.
Plagues are a huge subject. Even today there is little agreement between medical experts as to which pandemics were caused by Yersinia pestis (the bacillus almost certainly responsible for the 1665 plague); what was the contagiousness and morbidity of the various strains of plague; and what were all the ways that it could be transmitted to humans. Then there are all the complicated social questions to sort out: What was cause, what effect, and what coincidence? All this has to be carefully determined from the artifacts left by a largely superstitious and semi-literate society in desperate times.
The husband and wife team of Lloyd and Dorothy Moote have pooled their skills in European history and medical research to examine the human side of the Great Plague. By going back to original source materials, they have provided an intimate picture of life during the plague year that is as free as possible from the myths and misunderstandings that have grown up around the subject. Most valuably, their interpretation of events is sensitive to the knowledge and beliefs of the people at the time. This was an afflicted community only three hundred years after the Black Death - one of the world's greatest horrors - and two hundred years before scientists such as Filippo Pacini, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch would connect disease to an "organic, living substance of a parasitic nature.
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Format: Hardcover
Wow, talk about a depressing book.

The Great Plague is not the story of the Twentieth Century flu epidemic, or about the Black Death of the Fourteenth. It is about the bubonic plague of Seventeenth Century London during the reign of Charles II. This was the epidemic that drove Newton to return to his home town to confront the famous apple; it is the epidemic that preceded the Great Fire of 1666; it is the Pepys' Diary world.

Probably more than anything, this book, like that on the Great Fire of London, proves the value of diarists and their contemporary accounts. While the facts of the devastation could be adequately conveyed by graph and statistics alone, the emotional impact of the event can not begin to be demonstrated by numbers alone. The courage of the population at every level of society as they attempted to carry on their daily lives despite the devastation all around them was amazing. Even those who fled the city because they could afford to do so, provided financial support to those who could not. The psychological toll that months of death cost is evident in many of the diaries. Even the ever buoyant and optimistic Samuel Pepys, the civil servant's civil servant, began to show cracks in his armor.

One of the things that most impressed upon me the reality of the plague was the staggering demands for burial property. Churchyards were used and reused for single burials, and empty land around the town was used for mass graves. Just disposal of the dead became a major problem. It reminded me of the same issues that arose in the aftermath of the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, only this was a "hurricane" that lasted over a year and produced far more fatalities!
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Format: Hardcover
Thoroughly researched and presented with details about the lives of the people living in London at the time and the statistics of those who fled, those who stayed, and those who perished; bravery and cowardice and greed; the brutal conditions of the poor, the lack of effective medical knowledge, the treatment of those not of the Anglican church (Quakers, Catholics, Jews). The rich could run away, and of the remaining population half or more died, faster than they could be buried, the church bells breaking because they were being rung all day long for the numerous dead. Using diaries, letters, church records and published works of the time the authors present life and death in London and the surrounding areas in the year 1645. The narrative relies heavily on Samuel Pepys diary, which is an excellent source, and the main part of the story is told without the knowledge of modern medicine and causes being introduced. That part is left to an interesting epilogue that tells the story of how the source of the plague was discovered, a very interesting section in itself. Recommended for the insight into medicine and the world of 1645 and to human nature under stress.
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