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Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the…
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Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe

by William Rosen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The book's flaws (and successes) have been covered by many former reviewers so let me add just a few notes that may be of interest to someone at some time:

For anyone who slept through their world history class when it was covering the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Alans, Suevi and Vandals, the first 1/4 of this book will give you the review you need...and some cute tricks for remembering who was where. (The Vandals were the sailors who made it to Sicily.) Ultimately, "Italy was ruled by Ostrogoths, Spain by Visigoths, and North Africa by Vandals" (p. 58).

Chapters 12 & 13 cover the story of the discovery of silk in the west, its production, trade history, and the subsequent Silk Road, and is one of the best summaries I've seen covering the details (if not the romance) of these aspects of the early history of silk. (I'm adding these two chapters to a recommended reading list I maintain on the Silk Road for students who need to know how many tons of silk were carried west by the average caravan).

And finally, if you want a description of how the plague 'worked' that is too biologically technical for the lay reader but probably too basic for a biologist, turn to Part III, Chapters 7-9.

In short, some bite-sized sections stand out, but as an Intro-to-Epilogue read, I have to concur with the majority of readers, I found the too frequent to's and fro's unsettling. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
If you want to read a book about Justinian, this book might do - his life, times and accomplishments are well detailed. If you want to read a book about the flea that carries the plague bacillus, you likely could do better than this book, but would at least find a couple of chapters related to your interest in this book.
HOWEVER, if you want to read a book about Justinian's Flea (emphasis on the possessive!) in order to discover how the plague impacted and possibly ended the Roman empire of antiquity, this book will not do. This book just tells you that the plague killed lots of people. There is no analysis of why the plague did or did not weaken Rome's army more than those of its enemies or how a decline in population impacted Roman society. Instead, you will wade through pages and pages on topics such as the Empire's efforts to import silk worms, the various Christian theological debates raging Justinian's life, and the construction defects of the Hagia Sofia, and then, in the last two pages, be informed that the plague caused the atomization of Europe into nation states. Maybe it did, but you'll need to read some other books to learn why. ( )
  as85 | Jul 12, 2017 |
The great plague of the 6th century AD.

Interesting but not quite what I was expecting. The first half of the book is a quick run through the history of the Roman Empire from Diocletian onwards as a retrospective, slowing down when we reach Justinian himself, halting in 540.

The second half starts off with the bacteriology of the plague and then takes through the plague itself and some of its effects. We then continue with the reign of Justinian and finish off with the effects of the plague not spreading to Arabia and China. In an epilogue, we look at the early Islamic conquests and then indulge in some counterfactual speculation as to what would have happened if there had been no outbreak of plague in the 6th century.

The author is completely unable to see a rabbit hole without going down it (however interesting did we really need an excursus on the architecture of Hagia Sophia?). I enjoyed it but would have liked more about the plague itself, attempts by doctors to deal with it, and people's reactions than we got (about 10 - 20% of the book). But then perhaps there isn't that much evidence. A lot more Justinian than flea despite the title. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Feb 22, 2017 |
Mr. Rosen has assembled a competent examination of the most serious event of the 500's CE. He has good chapters on the Plague and the Architecture of Hagia Sophia, which he examines in great detail. The architectural excursus is not greatly germaine to the rest of the book, which concludes with a reasonable survey of the Middle East in the 500's. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Aug 9, 2016 |
An interesting overview of a fascinating time in world history that is too little known. The flea in the book is assumed to be the carrier of the black plague that changed history. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 26, 2016 |
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Whitener, BarrettNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The law of gravitation discovered in the seventeenth century by Isaac Newton states that two bodies attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the centers of the bodies' mass, and inversely proportional to the square of the length of a straight line separating one from the other.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670038555, Hardcover)

A richly told story of the collision between nature’s smallest organism and history’s mightiest empire

The Emperor Justinian reunified Rome’s fractured empire by defeating the Goths and Vandals who had separated Italy, Spain, and North Africa from imperial rule. In his capital at Constantinople he built the world’s most beautiful building, married its most powerful empress, and wrote its most enduring legal code, seemingly restoring Rome’s fortunes for the next five hundred years. Then, in the summer of 542, he encountered a flea. The ensuing outbreak of bubonic plague killed five thousand people a day in Constantinople and nearly killed Justinian himself.

In Justinian’s Flea, William Rosen tells the story of history’s first pandemic—a plague seven centuries before the Black Death that killed tens of millions, devastated the empires of Persia and Rome, left a path of victims from Ireland to Iraq, and opened the way for the armies of Islam. Weaving together evolutionary microbiology, economics, military strategy, ecology, and ancient and modern medicine, Rosen offers a sweeping narrative of one of the great hinge moments in history, one that will appeal to readers of John Kelly’s The Great Mortality, John Barry’s The Great Influenza, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:50 -0400)

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Weaving together evolutionary microbiology, economics, military strategy, ecology, and ancient and modern medicine, author Rosen tells of history's first pandemic--a plague seven centuries before the Black Death that killed tens of millions, devastated the empires of Persia and Rome, left victims from Ireland to Iraq, and opened the way for the armies of Islam. Emperor Justinian had reunified Rome's fractured empire by defeating the Goths and Vandals who had separated Italy, Spain, and North Africa from imperial rule. In his capital at Constantinople he built the world's most beautiful building, married its most powerful empress, and wrote its most enduring legal code, seemingly restoring Rome's fortunes. Then, in the summer of 542, he encountered a flea. The ensuing outbreak of bubonic plague killed five thousand people a day in Constantinople and nearly killed Justinian himself, bringing about one of the great hinge moments in history.--From publisher description.… (more)

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