Picture of author.

For other authors named William Rosen, see the disambiguation page.

William Rosen (1) has been aliased into William S. Rosen.

4 Works 1,740 Members 53 Reviews 1 Favorited

Works by William Rosen


Common Knowledge

Country (for map)
United States of America



This is a good telling of Emperor Justinian's reign at the end of the Roman era. But . . .
I'm peeved by the title: 'Justinian's Flea' suggested to me a book about the plague and how it affected Justinian's time as Emperor, but the book is really a history of the Roman empire during Justinian's rule. The plague is merely a bit part in that telling. I was going to blame the publishers for tarting up a bland history with a nifty title, until I found that the author is not a professional historian, and his first career was in publishing!
But I still enjoyed the book. I learned more than I ever expected to know about the very late stages of the Roman Empire. The author gives life to key players, while not going too far past the limited source documentary evidence.
… (more)
mbmackay | 39 other reviews | May 4, 2024 |
Packed with historical background, this is a heavy history lesson connecting the politics of the fading Roman Empire with the earliest documented pandemic of Y. pestis.
HMBLVJ | 39 other reviews | Apr 21, 2024 |
I feel that I have been fleeced by the ole bait & switch! I thought the book would be about the plague under Justinian's rule in AD 500-600's. Instead, I got a massive sweeping history of Byzantium, clear through WWI! This was a monumental task and not done well IMHO. It is rambling and there is no clear thesis. The author jumps from topic to topic and some of them I can not even connect to yersinia pestis, which had 15 pages dedicated to its evolution. I was 200 pages into the book (6 chapters) before the lil flea was introduced. And that was it--just one chapter. The remaining chapters dealt with how the flea helped to cause the downfall of Byzantium and also how it helped to rebuild Europe. I wanted pestilence and disease and misery and suffering! What I got was a scientific/historical treatise of 300 years of history and some of it so specialized that I had never even heard of it before--and I'm a history prof. (Sasanian Empire) This seems like it could be a book of separate historical essays that are only lightly connected. I read about the architecture of the Sophia Hagia as well as the yaka (?) timber used to build it; the entire chapter! I read about the Sub Atlantic Climate Change in Rome from about AD 100-750. I "think" the premise of the book was that all these things had to work together to create the perfect storm for the flea to evolve and wreak its havoc. I'm a simple woman with simple needs, I wanted more FLEA! 364 pages… (more)
Tess_W | 39 other reviews | Mar 4, 2024 |
**Goodreads Advance Reader copy**

I'll be honest, I probably get more excited about an historical examination of famine than the average reader. That said, it doesn't take a history nut to enjoy The Third Horseman. The easy conversational tone and cheeky footnotes keep the narrative flowing while the new perspective and information make for a fascinating story.

The Third Horseman addresses the Great Famine of the early 14th century, looking at the interaction of climate, economics, and political intrigue in the creation of devastating events, and their particular effects on the common man. The story is very much seated in England (and laterally in France), using the reign of Edward II and the struggles over Scottish independence as a lens to view the famine and its effects.

I was not prepared for the heavy focus on England. The story could as easily be told from a variety of regional perspectives, and I was interested to read more about the rest of the continent. However the author is well aware of this, and, facing the impracticality of including every story line, chose the one that worked for him. It works for the reader as well; and the benefit of focusing primarily on one area is the level of detail it allows him to provide.

There are inevitably many theories explaining any era of history; our accounts are always biased towards the records that survive. Rosen expands those accounts by drawing from a variety of disciplines and sources. I appreciated the anthropological approach; the premise that how we organize ourselves as humans (as animals) starts with how we get food from the land. He pieces together climate data from dendrochronology and arctic ice core samples; gauges food distribution using ethnobotany and modern humanitarian efforts, botanical knowledge of plant production and economic studies of pricing, trade, and production; all along with the classic sources of historical records and chronicles.

The most interesting facet of this book is the way the author uses this varied information to sketch out the life of the lower classes in England. While the majority of surviving records focus on the nobility and the ecclesiastics, these new sources (I'm reading a proof copy, but a great number of the non-contemporary references seem to be papers and writings from the last decade) allow him to postulate what life was like for a peasant, a farmer, a townsman, a soldier. This is especially important when we're talking famine; as he says, often these crises are not a total lack of food, but a shortage; and the poor starve first.

Ultimately, the book paints a clear picture from our own history of how an ecological disturbance can become a catastrophe when combined with an unequal economic structure and capricious decision-making on a political level; and how it is the working classes who bear the brunt of that damage. It's a lesson we can't afford to ignore in the present.
… (more)
Kiramke | 4 other reviews | Jun 27, 2023 |



You May Also Like

Associated Authors


½ 3.7

Charts & Graphs