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The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most… (2005)

af John Kelly

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1,398549,902 (3.91)56
"The Great Mortality is John Kelly's narrative account of the medieval plague, from its beginnings on the desolate, windswept steppes of Central Asia to its journey through the teeming cities of Europe." "The Great Mortality also looks at new theories about the cause of the plague and takes into account why some scientists and historians believe that the Black Death was an outbreak not of bubonic plague, but of another infectious illness - perhaps anthrax or a disease like Ebola. Interweaving a modern scientific methodical analysis with portrait of medieval medicine, superstition, and bigotry, The Great Mortality achieves an air of immediacy, authenticity, and intimacy never before seen in literature on the plague."--BOOK JACKET.… (mere)
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Engelsk (53)  Italiensk (1)  Alle sprog (54)
Viser 1-5 af 54 (næste | vis alle)
In the midst of our pandemic, I decided to read about the granddaddy of all pandemics -- the Black Death of the Middle Ages, that wiped out somewhere around half the population of many areas it touched.

As I listened, I found my brain making strange connections between then and now. For instance, conspiracy theories flourished. People behaved in counterproductive ways. There were other things that struck me, but my retention of details isn't as good as it used to be. It was an interesting book. I could have been happy with few less details about rats and fleas . . . He spent a lot of time putting things in context, sometimes with details that caused me to lose the train of thought. It was important that he pointed out the persecution of the Jewish people during the plague (conspiracy theory was that they caused the plague!) but a history of anti-Semitism from the time of the Gospel accounts through Nazi Germany seemed a bit out of place -- that could be a book in and of itself. ( )
  tymfos | Jun 8, 2021 |
Ornate Non-Fiction

"The Great Mortality" is not a terrible book, but the prose is terribly ornate. Behind flowery language and silly metaphors, there are good facts about the plague. The author, John Kelly, and editors certainly could have trimmed a lot of poetic fat.

The bulk of the book focuses on individual cities, such as Genoa, Lyon, and Marseilles. The author tries to trace the plague chronologically from city to city, finding good, firsthand accounts from priests, lawyers, and writers - usually one from each city. There are no footnotes, but the end notes sometimes indicate that Kelly's flowery language is prone to exaggeration.

Kelly offers some, but not much, record of the first pogroms against what he calls "Jewry," an outdated term in 2005. However, he offers an excellent and convincing synopsis on the history of Antisemitism in the early Christian church. Although it was out of place in this book, I found it very informative and insightful.

I preferred two other books about the plague: "In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made" by Norman Cantor. "In the Wake of the Plague" seemed more dense, perhaps because it left out all the superfluous language that Kelly included. ( )
  mvblair | Sep 14, 2020 |
Interesting. Nicely written. ( )
  ElentarriLT | Mar 24, 2020 |
ttobre 1347. Dodici navi mercantili genovesi giungono nel porto di Messina provenienti dalla città di Caffa in Crimea, dove i genovesi hanno costituito una florida base commerciale. Caffa è assediata da quasi tre anni dai tartari, che per spezzare la resistenza degli abitanti asserragliati hanno catapultato all'interno delle mura decine e decine di cadaveri infetti di soldati morti per un misterioso, violento morbo. La pestilenza si diffonde a Caffa: alcuni marinai genovesi riescono a sottrarsi all'assedio e a partire dalla città, ma portano con loro il terribile contagio. Quando le navi giungono nel porto di Messina si scatena un'epidemia che in pochi anni uccide un terzo della popolazione europea, forse il più devastante disastro naturale della storia dell'umanità... Case abbandonate dove si rifugiano come ratti profughi terrorizzati, alcuni tremanti di febbre e scossi da una violenta tosse, strade deserte battute da mute di cani randagi affamati, campi disseminati di cadaveri di mucche e pecore, fosse comuni traboccanti di cadaveri bluastri, pogrom violentissimi e stragi di questo o quel gruppo etnico accusato di diffondere il contagio, processioni salmodianti di flagellanti che cercano di difendersi espiando peccati veri o presunti, bande di sciacalli ubriachi che violentano, rubano, uccidono senza pietà. E tutto intorno, boschi e campagne a perdita d’occhio, disabitate. Questa era l’Europa dur
  kikka62 | Mar 21, 2020 |
Despite some very silly writing and though, or perhaps because, it wears its scholarship so lightly as to make it seem diaphanous this is a wonderfully readable book.

From its beginning a couple of its qualities bothered me, and one of them did till the end. In his introduction, Kelly says that it was original source material that inspired him. In the footnotes-cum-bibliography to which I often turned there wasn't much evidence of his having drawn from primary sources, though: most of the books he cites are secondary sources like survey books on the plague. Sure, within the text he provides contemporary quotes and statistics but the source of them is usually one of those books--for heaven's sake even the footnote for a verse from Piers the Plowman refers to one of them and not directly to the poem itself.. Some of the cited titles are at least anthologies of writings of the period; on the other hand some citations are from the likes of BBC History Magazine and a Victorian historian. Early on, then, I discarded the image of a scholarly old don sleepless from the search for neglected source material and the effort of mastering languages as they were used centuries ago.

Kelly is mad keen on speculation, as well. By that I don't mean that what he says is unfounded in fact and unreliable; it's simply that he lets his imagination run away with him. (Fair dos though, he doesn't try to mislead the reader by presenting his fantasies, his might-have-been storytelling, as fact) A memorable example is his mention of the grave & graveside inscription for--possible--plague victims followed by a long account of poor imaginary Kutluk and Magnu in their final hours. Even the contents of the former's delirious and imaginary hallucinations are detailed. The inscription itself isn't.

Now and then the book turns suddenly less endearing: I'm not at all sure that he quotes someone praising global warming and someone else declaring that nuclear war wouldn't necessarily be *that* big a deal ironically. Nor is there any sign that Kelly's anything less than earnest when he says that because an ambitious young man married a woman with a bit of money, the couple's many moves to ever-dearer houses might well have been the result of her relentless nagging.

But for some reason this is terrifically readable, and if you take it as a history book written by a knowledgeable author who organises his material beautifully and who sometimes can't help himself presenting non-fiction as a fiction writer would, you will probably enjoy it hugely.
  bluepiano | Feb 26, 2018 |
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"The Great Mortality is John Kelly's narrative account of the medieval plague, from its beginnings on the desolate, windswept steppes of Central Asia to its journey through the teeming cities of Europe." "The Great Mortality also looks at new theories about the cause of the plague and takes into account why some scientists and historians believe that the Black Death was an outbreak not of bubonic plague, but of another infectious illness - perhaps anthrax or a disease like Ebola. Interweaving a modern scientific methodical analysis with portrait of medieval medicine, superstition, and bigotry, The Great Mortality achieves an air of immediacy, authenticity, and intimacy never before seen in literature on the plague."--BOOK JACKET.

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