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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 5 October 2009
Fiction it might be, though apparently based on the diaries of his uncle Henry Foe (the H.F. who purportedly authors the account) Daniel Defoes "Journal of the Plague Year" is a fascinating account of the Bubonic plague that struck London in the year 1665.

While essentially a work of fiction, the level of detail, the statistics, anecodotes and endless conjecturing give the work a strong semblance of veracity. The reader is compelled to read on through the terrifying details of a plague that in all probability took around 100,000 lives during the year that it raged. One of the interesting features of the book is the conflict between science and religion, is a continuous thread throughout. Defoes author H.F. writes in a profoundly religous tone, early on in the book a group of mocking aetheists who coarsely drink and curse their way through the plague are, each and everyone, struck down and deposited in the communal grave before two pages are out. At the same time there is a recognition of scientific attempts to understand and control the plague, the shutting up of houses is much discussed as well as the variety of "preventatives" that offer protection from infection. Much of the book is given over to a variety of speculations, and given the state of medical science at the time of writing a good many of the conjectures verge on the amusing. The author even tells of one theory, of small organisms in the blood, only to scoff at it while the modern reader may sense as good a description of bacteria as that age could furnish.

A good deal of the facts are horrifying, whole families dying, the nightly horse and cart patrols to collect the dead for communal graves, people maddened by the infection running through the streets unhindered, the dying screams of those shut up in their homes to die. It is a puzzle at first where they find men to collect the dead and women to nurse the sick until later in the book the author contemplates the plight of the poor. It simply seems that if they did not take these jobs they would have starved to death as all other industry and employment had ground to a halt, the risk of dying of the plague seemed a better bet than the certainty of dying of starvation.

Definitely an interesting book though some may find the grotesque grammer and lengthy sentences a little too much. The edition I purchased was from Dover classics and consisted of just the journal itself and I felt my ability to get the most from the book was undermined by not having the additional context that a good set of footnotes and introduction should provide.
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on 14 December 2007
Imagine every other person in your social circle, family, friends, workplace and high street dropping dead. This was the reality of the Black Death, at least in the more crowded settlements. A tragedy beyond imagination that Defoe brings alive.

It's not the mortality that grips you, catastrophic as they were, but how people, even close relatives, shunned each other because of the near-certainty of contracting the disease and ending up dead themselves.

It's probably my duty to highlight, too, that the Black Death was almost certainly not bubonic plague as it doesn't fit the facts of how the disease spread, but hemorrhagic fever. One of the key pieces of evidence is the outbreak of plague in Iceland, which is known not to have harboured a rat population at that time.
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on 19 July 2013
I really enjoyed dipping into this fictional account of the plague in London. I found that reading short sections that caught ones interest was the way to gain enjoyment from reading this book.

There are super vignettes such as the lady thieves who just wandered into the store house of a neighbour (who had fled to the country) and wandered off wearing hats stolen from the store house! Or the piper who was mistaken for a corpse and taken in the body waggon and he sat up from underneath a pile of bodies and wondered where he was.

Give it a bash. Far too dry for a straight read - unless you are studying the book for a specific purpose - but a super dive in dive out book!
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on 13 August 2013
I only knew of the Plague through my school studies. I bought the book to see if I could an idea of what it must have been like to live through it.

It takes the form of a narrative of someone apparently living in London at the time. What makes it effective is the almost unrelenting coldness of that narrative. It could almost be an official report. And, on having read it and thought about it, that it was the best way to do it.
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on 26 May 2015
I struggle to concentrate on fiction but love this as this as a historical account. Astonishing descriptions of the goings on at the time and although there is an element of repetition, surprisingly real stories of lives not that far removed from the present in some respects. Fascinating rather than gruesome or depressing. The language is old in style but still totally understandable and accessible. Being a visual art lover rather than a reader, I am guessing that this is due to the skill and elloquence of Daniel Defoe.
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on 4 August 2013
I didn't expect to like this but I did. there is a huge amount of description and information in the book, and it really does give some idea of the conditions during the great plague. It is challenging in that there are no set chapters, but worth the effort.
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on 31 March 2014
I had to read Daniel Defoe’s early example of realistic storytelling as part of my London in Literature course at university – many people think his tale of the black death is a journalistic report of the facts, but it really is a piece of fiction no matter how closely it might resemble the truth.

Sure, the language is a little heavy in parts and it’s only really worth reading if you have a deep interest in the plague, but it’s pretty good considering its age.
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on 21 September 2015
Excellent, I read this at school and enjoyed it just as much now (I really did enjoy reading it at school). It goes to show that humans are humans everywhere across time.
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on 27 December 2015
An excellent, inexpensive edition. For anyone interested in, or studying, this particular period of history, it's a concise contemporary source.
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on 20 January 2016
Peoples' experiences written down at first hand therefore a picture of life in very uncertain times.
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