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Return of the Black Death: The World's Greatest Serial Killer 1st Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470090015
ISBN-10: 0470090014
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Editorial Reviews


"...fascinating book...a gripping read..." (Perioperative Nursing, September 04)

"...combines historical and biological research to undermine what we have long believed..." (Ancestors, Dec 05)

From the Inside Flap

The Black Death appeared out of the blue in Sicily in 1347 and moved swiftly on to kill half of Europe in three years. Once the plague had established a stronghold in France it continued to terrorize the continent for another three centuries. London's Great Plague of 1665-66, which claimed 6000 lives a week at its height, was its last great strike. A few years later it disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it had appeared. Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan uncover the tragic and moving human stories behind the records: unsung heroes, bereaved parents, parted lovers and those who exploited the suffering of others for their own greed. They also trace the origins of this lethal disease, through possible earlier outbreaks in classical times back to its animal hosts in Africa. Here it remains but there is no reason to believe it has gone for good. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (July 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470090014
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470090015
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,800,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Adler on August 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The core of this book is the authors' convincing demonstration that the Black Death, which killed perhaps half the population of Europe during the Middle Ages, was not bubonic plaque, as has long been thought and taught, but a different, unknown, and far more dangerous virus. This is a difference that makes a difference. Modern medicine understands, can quickly detect, and can effectively treat outbreaks of bubonic plaque, making a major re-emergence very unlikely. But if the mysterious virus behind the Black Death, or a close cousin, were to re-emerge, the results could be catastrophic, as the authors clearly show.

The authors reached this conclusion through patient sleuthing through ancient death records in towns and villages devastated by the Black Death. By tracing the exact lines of transmission, they were able to show that the virus had a long incubation period, during most of which people acted as unknowing carriers of the disease. By the time they developed its horrifying symptoms, it was too late for them and for those people they had crossed paths with.

Perhaps because the authors' historical research was so important in guiding them to their radical new conclusion, they devote the first half of the book to it. Readers who make it through this sometimes repetitious recitation will find the second half of the book much more rewarding and thought-provoking

Robert Adler, author of Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome; and Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had high expectations for this book. I am interested in the "black Death" mystery, and thought this book would be just the thing. However, I was disappointed by contradictory examples, seemingly mixed up chapter order and no references what so ever.

First, most of the book is basically a recital of cities and dates and deaths, though in many examples the authors say the numbers were "probably" exaggerated. The authors use phrases like that a lot - "probably" and "almost certainly" and "presumably" and "must have" in place of real evidence or references. As in the ship "most certainly" landed in such-a-such harbor, and it "probably" brought the infection . . . Well, did it or didn't it? What documentation or historical accounts give evidence of this? Or even hint at it? When I see phrases like that and no evidence or reference sited it makes me skeptical of the validity of the claim. I don't know whether or not that is the case with this book, but without references, I can't really say.

As for the seemingly mixed up chapters, I honestly wondered if my Kindle version had gotten mixed up somehow. One chapter will end with the question "what have we learned about this disease?" and so I'd think the next chapter (finally) would be getting into the real meat of the matter, only to find in the next chapter yet more references of cities and dates and death rates. Then, I read a question something like (remembering from memory) "Did England escaped the plague on its stronghold island", but in previous chapters there had been many examples already given of the plague and deaths in England . . .

Another thing I always find rather distasteful is when authors try to discredit other authors' works, saying, I'm right and you are SOOOO wrong!!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book shares with us the evidence from the time period and how the black plague could not have been bubonic. The facts we have available simply don't correlate. So from there the authors investigate to try and discover what mysterious illness could have been responsible. It's a fascinating read and covers a lot of forgotten history, so highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have read this book several times and will read it again. The central thesis advanced by the authors is that the dreaded 'Black Death' which ravaged Europe intermittently for three centuries was not the flea/rat-borne Bubonic Plague, as has been long accepted, but was rather an ebola-like viral disease transmitted directly from person-to-person. It is still a controversial thesis, apparently, but one that I found very compelling after reading what Scott and Duncan had to say.

I have to say that it is a bit of a shame that the dust jacket blurb suggests (rather disingenuously, to my mind) that the author's thesis arose from the 'sleuthing' work they did with their research into English parish records. To their credit, however, the authors themselves quite properly acknowledge that the notion was first advanced inThe Black Death: A Biological Reappraisal by Graham Twigg back in 1985.

The book has been criticized by some for not being properly foot-noted, or otherwise supported with references, but it should be noted that this book is aimed at the layperson and is obviously not intended to be a scholarly, academic-paper type of publication. The authors begin with the assumption that the ultimate reader is not an epidemiologist (or a microbiologist, of one stripe or another) and then goes on to interweave the narrative with very clear and accessible explanations of some general and useful concepts related to pathogens and epidemics.
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