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The Black Death: A Personal History by John…

The Black Death: A Personal History

by John Hatcher

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A fascinating account of the great plague from the perspective of a typical 14th century English manor village. The author combines historical fact with educated speculation to create an account that is not quite straight history but far more than mere historical fiction. Due to the paucity of information regarding everyday life from the perspective of peasants and local clergy, such a work provides a unique perspective far more interesting than most works about the Black Death.

Interesting, easy reading and well written. Highly recommended. ( )
  la2bkk | Nov 9, 2016 |
This isn't a bad book, but it is an odd one. In The Black Death: A Personal History, Hatcher sets out to show the effects which the Black Death had on one small village: Walsham in Suffolk, England. Of course, there is one big drawback to this approach: while Walsham is unusually well-documented for the fourteenth century, it still has nowhere near the amount or kind of surviving documentation which would allow a historian to write a thorough micro-history of what its inhabitants went through during the Plague. Hatcher therefore created a kind of textual docudrama—a blend of historical fact and narrative fiction. It makes for an odd read; neither fish nor fowl, it reads a little like a novelisation of a BBC documentary. It is well-researched, however, and may well appeal to the interested lay reader or to an undergraduate audience (if there is enough time devoted to teasing apart the factual versus fictional elements of the book). ( )
  siriaeve | Jan 5, 2013 |
Read way too much like a history book instead of fiction. Just could not get through it. Oh well, plenty more books in the sea!
  SenoraG163 | Sep 10, 2011 |
As others have mentioned the author seemed torn between 2 ideas. Does he recount the life of a village going through the Black Death, based only on the scanty records? Or does he fictionalise the characters, to try to bring a sense of what it was like to go through the plague? He goes for the latter, but can't quite seem to drag himself away from the first. Its fine to explain in the introduction that the characters are fictional, and on what basis he has created them. But by introducing each chapter with "the facts" he destroys any suspension of disbelief the reader has managed. Not only does Hatcher sometimes take further opportunities to remind us that the characters are fictional, just when we've built up some empathy with them, but the merging of fact and fiction is clumsily handled. A "factual" introduction tells of a letter from the King sent to all churches - and lo, 2 pages later here is Master John the fictional priest receiving and taking comfort from it. The "facts" tell us of decrees against "idling" (how little things have changed) and 2 pages later we have the local peasants down the pub, complaining about it.

The book is also repetitive - the last 40 pages, which contain what would have been quite an interesting description of how the plague changed the rural social fabric through the increased bargaining power of labourers, were ruined for me by labouring ad nauseam of the same point. We get it. The workers discovered that shortage provided opportunity for them. The landowners didn't like it. This doesnt need 2 chapters

A shame because I really wanted to like this book, but it didn't really work ( )
2 vote Opinionated | Jun 30, 2011 |
What was everyday life like in the village of Walsham in the mid-fourteenth century? Now add the Black Plague and how does it change the composition of the village hierarchy?

A very detailed description of the various fears leading up to the arrival of the disease, the spread of the disease and finally the repercussions of the crippling plague. The opening of each chapter offers a brief history of actual events and then 'recounts' the day-to-day life of the various ficticious members of village society- church leaders, lords and lady and farmers/laborers.

The book is geared to people who are interested in the historical aspect of the Bubonic Plague, not for those looking for a light read (if there is such a thing as a 'light' read on the plague). Very detailed laden but interesting nonetheless. As a history buff I thoroughly enjoyed the meticulous research presented in Hatcher's book. ( )
1 vote Shuffy2 | Dec 22, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306815710, Hardcover)

In this fresh approach to the history of the Black Death, world-renowned scholar John Hatcher re-creates everyday life in a mid-fourteenth century rural English village. By focusing on the experiences of ordinary villagers as they lived-and died-during the Black Death (1345-50), Hatcher vividly places the reader directly inside those tumultuous times and describes in fascinating detail the day-to-day existence of people struggling with the tragic effects of the plague. Dramatic scenes portray how contemporaries must have felt and thought about these momentous events: what they knew and didn’t know about the horrors of the disease, what they believed about death and God’s vengeance, and how they tried to make sense of it all despite frantic rumors, frightening tales, and fearful sermons.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:11 -0400)

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"With alarming speed, the horrific plague that swept across the known world in the mid-fourteenth century (from 1345 to 1350) took the lives of an estimated 40 percent of the population. The Black Death was one of Europe's greatest natural disasters, a watershed event that changed forever the social and economic history of Western civilization. Yet sources tell us very little about the ordinary person's experience of the plague ... until now." "In this fresh historical approach to the study of the Black Death, author and scholar John Hatcher re-creates everyday life in the rural English parish of Walsham. Through a series of vivid, meticulously researched scenes, he shows how the terrible events of the times affected the villagers, how fear and hysteria spread as the epidemic drew near, and how quickly death ran its course as nearly fifty townspeople a day perished. Hatcher also portrays the clergy's desperate struggle to minister to the dying and to offer spiritual comfort to the living in a time fraught with apocalyptic overtones, and he examines how dramatically life was about to change for those who survived." "Hatcher explores this extraordinary event in intimate detail, giving it a more thorough, immediate treatment than historians have given it in the past. He reveals, for the first time, a very personal history of the Black Death."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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