Saturday, July 23, 2016

THE GREAT MORTALITY by John Kelly (2005)

I enjoyed this book.  However, I have to admit that it took me months to finish. Perhaps it was the
time, with other distractions getting in the way such as the defense of my thesis, graduation, etc.  Being a student of the Medieval Era I found the wealth of information about this time period to be fascinating.  Kelly not only explains the technical aspects of the Black Death from the 14th Century, he also weaves into the narrative stories and accounts of events impacted by this great plague.  Some might argue that he spends an inordinate amount of space on some of these issues, such as the antisemitism of the time.  However, historical events should always be considered in the overall context of the period, recognizing that disease impacts many areas of a society, including family, economics, politics, and faith, to name but a few.  Kelly walked away from his extensive study with a mixture of sadness and encouragement.  Sadness over the horrific immensity of the death that transpired throughout the world, from the far east to the shores of Greenland.  Encouragement over the instances of virtue and kindness in the midst of the global tragedy, as well as the developments that rose as a result of the plague.  Although not an expert in any way on this topic, I was impressed by his attention to not only the historical sources, but to the scientific questions alike.  He did his homework.  In fact, this book was several years in the making.  The approach of the book is a tour de force that works its way from Mongolia (its supposed origin), throughout eastern and western Europe, England, and even as far west as Greenland.  More than once I was thankful for the map provided in the very front of the book that shows the progress of the plague as he narrates it in the book.  Given how long I took to finish the book, and the length of the work plus the wealth of information (over 340 pages), I feel like I should re-read it some day.  As a side note: The book is appended with personal information on the author and a brief story of the writing of of the book.  I recommend this volume heartily. P.S. Although I want to move on to another topic, I just might read Norman Cantor's book In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World that Made It (2001).  Kelly makes note of Cantor, and it seems like an equally readable work.

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