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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly brilliant
Let me say straight away that I thoroughly enjoyed both the book and the scholarship behind it, and would recommend it highly. My criticisms will, therefore, seem like nit-picking, and they probably are just that.

I read this just after finishing reading Benedict Gummer's "The Scourging Angel", because I wanted to put some human detail onto the story that...
Published on 5 Sep 2009 by Stephen Clarke

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but does not live up to its hype
I am puzzled by the many reviews that point to this book being "well-written". The concept is good. The material on which Hatcher draws is undoubtedly strong, and it is hugely informative. With judicious editing this could have been a truly remarkable book. But as it stands it is hugely repetitive to the point of being laborious at times. Hatcher introduces historical...
Published on 20 April 2012 by Wynbert


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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly brilliant, 5 Sep 2009
By 
Stephen Clarke "Steve" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Let me say straight away that I thoroughly enjoyed both the book and the scholarship behind it, and would recommend it highly. My criticisms will, therefore, seem like nit-picking, and they probably are just that.

I read this just after finishing reading Benedict Gummer's "The Scourging Angel", because I wanted to put some human detail onto the story that Gummer's immense tome examines. I like the style that Hatcher has employed; I like being able to see the events unfold through the medium of real people: empathy is a vital part of the historian's armoury, but very difficult to deploy accurately.

I'm just not sure whether Hatcher succeeds totally. We are introduced to many of the inhabitants of Walsham, but I don't think that, in the end, we are exposed totally to their feelings. If it is to work, the docu-drama method needs to be developed fully and I get the impression that, at times, Hatcher baulked at reflecting the hideously harrowing nature of the events of those dreadful months for the people who lived and died. Even the central character, the priest, is not allowed fully to express his thoughts, either to the people of the time or to us, his observers.

By comparison, Philip Ziegler, in one chapter of his "The Black Death" (nearly 40 years ago now), got to grips with the feelings and emotions of a typical set of villagers. I was hoping Hatcher would match that, and for me, he didn't. Despite his achieving a beautifully-detailed picture of the period, I was left wanting more depth.

As for the nit-picking, I wish his proof-readers would have picked up his misuse of "less" when he meant "fewer", on numerous occasions. And I also wish editors and publishers would realise that they don't HAVE to use the expression "The Black Death" to describe these events. It is not a matter of political correctness gone mad: that expression dates to the early 19th Century at the earliest and is thus singularly inappropriate for a book that is attempting to see events through the eyes of people living at the time.

Four stars or five? Does it matter? It's well worth the reading.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but does not live up to its hype, 20 April 2012
I am puzzled by the many reviews that point to this book being "well-written". The concept is good. The material on which Hatcher draws is undoubtedly strong, and it is hugely informative. With judicious editing this could have been a truly remarkable book. But as it stands it is hugely repetitive to the point of being laborious at times. Hatcher introduces historical fact and source material in the preamble to each chapter. This is obviously a valid device to establish authenticity and academic rigour in the research. But rather than using this to provide a contextual understanding, he often repeats whole passages of this (only slightly altered) in the following novelisation. I found myself reading bits while realising I had read almost exactly the same only a few pages earlier. A book with all this strong material could have been half its length and very much more effective for being so.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Black Death, 1 Sep 2011
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Death: An Intimate History (Kindle Edition)
This excellent book is a creative reconstruction of a village in crisis, from 1345 - 1350. The author chose the village of Walsham (now Walsham-le-Willows) in North West Suffolk, as it had good local records for him to plunder. Saying that, there are no diaries or any personal records and, so, the author does make the book more intimate by creative writing and creating characters - such as Master John, responsible for the villagers spiritual needs. However, where possible he uses real names, people and statistics.

The Black Death first made its fearful appearance in England in Weymouth, but the villagers begin to hear rumours about the plague long before. Travellers, sailors, merchants begin to bring tales of a terrible plague and the villagers are victims of heresay and rumour. They begin to make what preparations they can by taking religious pilgrimages and, urged by Master John, making confession. Master John reads aloud a letter from the bishop, in which it is said, "If the latest rumours are true, then the plague has already arrived in the Far South and West of England." Strangers are both feared, in case they bring plague, yet welcomed for news they might bring. The author also describes in great detail the ritual of Master John attending a death bed scene before the plague, which involved many people from the community, the dying persons family and the Church. If we contrast this with the hurried, impersonal confessions (for those lucky enough to receive them at all) for those suffering from plague, it shows how difficult it was for the society to cope with the sheer numbers of people ill and dying. For plague brought fear of infection and family members were often too scared to nurse or care for their dying relatives. Even if someone could be brought to administer the last rights, everyone was over stretched, exhausted and over whelmed, and often the dying person was too ill to make their confession, as the illness struck so quickly. In 1349 the plague struck Walsham, close to Easter Day. By late June, when it departed, the village population was cut in half. There were no tenant deaths reported in March and 103 reported in June. For a small community like Walsham, the number of people lost was devastating.

John Hatcher re-creates the people of the village extremely well. We feel their anticipation and fear, the horror of the plague finally coming to them and then the aftermath. For the plague changed England forever. People who had earlier been happy to take any work offered, now found that labour was in demand. They were unwilling to work for the same wages, or even to take over land and cottages left vacant. More more women than usual were left to inherit, as the men in their family died. The elite of the country were alarmed at the empowerment by the lower orders by the massive mortality rates. The King issued the 'Ordinance of Labourers', compelling the common people to work when required and trying to force them to accept the same wages and conditions as before the Black Death. In reality, those left were more concerned with their own lands, and those who had normally had a surplus of labour to choose from had to offer more wages and incentives than normal - if they could find anyone willing to work at all.

This is an excellent read and gives a very good representation of the experience of living in those times and what it meant for those left behind once the devastation passed. I enjoyed reading it very much and would recommend it highly.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exellent and informative read., 23 Aug 2009
This well researched and fascinating account of the "Black Death" had me gripped. The mixture of fact and fiction worked well. The characters were entirely believable and the sense of place was strong. The priest caring for the sufferers was sympathetically portrayed and the importance of religion emphasized. I knew the effects of the shortage of workers following the plague, but probably had not realised what a hold the feudal system had on the poor. I had not previously read much about this time and it was brought to life with great detail and without sentimentality.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Times, 30 Sep 2012
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John Hatcher uses an interesting technique to give an almost month-by-month and blow-by-blow account of how one village coped with the Great Pestilence, known much later by its more well-known name, The Black Death.

Each chapter is introduced by a factual summary of what the court and parish records reveal about what's been going on in the village of Walsham for the period of time covered by the chapter. Then the bulk of the following chapter, told from the point of view of the (fictitious) parish priest, "Master John", is a fleshed-out narrative based on the aforementioned records, to bring to life the personalities, lives, loves and tribulations of the local villagers, before, during, and in the aftermath of the great plague.

It also forms an interesting history of the times, how the rural communities lived and worked in thrall to their respective manorial Lord, how the entire balance of the economy was utterly reliant on this feudal system, and how it was brought to the brink of collapse by the handful of surviving peasants after the pestilence able to name their price for their work. Before the plague serfs and villeins had toiled hard all week on behalf of the Lord of their local manor who ruled their lives with a rod of iron. Post-plague, with fields abandoned across England and produce going to seed or rotting, the peasantry started demanding good food and high pay in return for a much lighter workload. This was crippling for the aristocracy, who tried to raise funds by levying the existing death tax on all the survivors who'd lost relatives; with the subsequent impotence of their attempts to get the survivors to pay anything and this new-found freedom for the peasantry leading, in some part and among other things (not least the later Poll Tax), to sow the seeds of thought that led to The Peasants' Revolt forty years on.

The Bubonic Plague itself (named for the ugly swellings - buboes - in the armpits, neck and groin that characterised one form of it), came in three forms and it appears from Hatcher's book that if people didn't catch one form (for example, a feeling of being 'under the weather' and then suddenly dying a couple of days later with no more symptoms than that) they would catch another. This three-pronged attack wiped out 50% of the population, a massive number of people and a death toll from which the population took around another 300 years to recover.

Hatcher's most difficult job is assessing people's psychological response to the plague. He tries to make sense of the fact that people naturally stopped visiting each other and turning up for court sessions, even when summoned by their Lord, knowing that putting themselves in proximity with others would lead to the spread of the disease. However church records suggest people still turned up there, and gathered together on numerous marches and for prayers, reminding the modern reader that no matter how in thrall to their local Lord peasants were, they were much more in thrall to their God. Hatcher has the flock believing that the pestilence is a punishment from God for the evils of the world, akin to the Great Flood, and has many - including Master John - wondering why, if that is the case, the good, holy and penitent people have to die as well. It's a question about natural disasters that has 'plagued' (sorry) the religious for generations, and I think Hatcher is probably right in his guesses at their range of responses to it.

Interesting, informative and the bulk of it written in the style of a novel rather than a traditional history, Hatcher tries to piece together the realities of village life from the drier legal records that remain from the time, and comes up with a book well worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars easy history, 5 April 2013
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This is a simple read but so informative. It is based on fact but is written in a way that is interesting and understandable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The idea was better than the execution, 11 Nov 2012
By 
Peter J. Hewson (Australia) - See all my reviews
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The idea of getting into the life of a viilage is great but from the start the author admits that he has no records for such a study. Instead he assembles generic records from the time to compose a narrative. That would have worked if he had then done as promised.

Essentially this book is docudrama of the life of a priest not the villagers. There are far too many long tracts of the nature of relgious thought that fill out the book. Not helped by the author being a historian not a novellist so the characters don't really come to life. He redeems himself with an examination of a couple of the manor houses but, essentially, there is not much of village life here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and informative, 20 Dec 2010
John Hatcher has produced a wonderful book. It is not always easy to get the balance between fact and fiction, especially during a time when little outside official business was written down, but this book manages to steer a smooth path through the two. There are places where you feel he should stick to telling the story without getting bogged down with unnecessary details, but these are few and are more than compensated for by the drama and sense of foreboding that is felt throughout as the black death looms ever closer. The book also manages to reveal a good deal about how the villagers would have reacted to the prospect of death, and the challenge to the established religious patterns.

Overall I would thoroughly recommend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Short and concise but to the point., 27 May 2014
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This review is from: The Black Death: An Intimate History (Kindle Edition)
Book was needed for a school project for my daughter and gave her an insight as to what happened during this dark period. Plus was very helpful for her to summarise what happened duirng this period.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A good read for some, perhaps, 17 May 2014
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A few years ago I listened to a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of this book. I hadn't realised from the adaptation that the book is a largely fictional account of the Black Death. Recently I saw a used copy for sale for a £1 or so on Amazon marketplace and decided to buy the book. I'm glad that I didn't pay the new price for the book as it's a boring read. There may be a lot of scholarship behind the book, and if you want to read in the early chapters about the fictional priest, Master John, going about his supposed business in the parish and reading his supposed sermons to his parishioners, then you should read this book. I prefer the Radio 4 adaptation, which is just over an hour in length, as it concentrates more on the historical facts that underpin the author's fiction. The book should interest students of church history.
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