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The Black Death: The Intimate Story of a Village in Crisis 1345-50: An Intimate History Paperback – 9 Jul 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W&N (9 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753823071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753823071
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.7 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

a gripping read -- part historical inquiry, part novel (INDEPENDENT)

This totally absorbing book presents the best account ever written about the worst event to have ever befallen the British Isles (Simon Winchester)

The author is praised as a masterly social historian and the book as colourful as an episode of Midsomer Murders (FINANCIAL TIMES)

Conveys with great effectiveness the intensity of medieval English devotions and their deep preoccupation with the business of dying. Reading this book I was reminded time and again of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Will Self EVENING STANDARD)

John Hatcher, a distinguished economic historian, sets out to attempt something new: the describe the plague in terms of one of these hard-hit communities... more than most of the purely historical accounts have given us (LITERARY REVIEW)

the sense of creeping doom, panic and rampant superstition is conveyed with a novelist's skill (GUARDIAN)

A compelling tale of ordinary people faced with a horror beyond imagining (SUNDAY BUSINESS POST)

Book Description

How the people of a typical English village lived and died in the worst epidemic in history.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Black Death "remains the greatest natural disaster to befall humanity." Well, perhaps but we are spoilt for choice. Professor Hatcher's book is a hybrid, mostly a social and economic history, partly fictional based on a real Suffolk village in 1340s. What he has done is to apply intellect and industry (using the records that have survived) adding his imagination to make a story. As a Cambridge historian, he is qualified to add narrative flesh to the factual skeleton. The book chronicles the fourteenth century rural world with much detail - plus some reasonable extrapolation - providing a picture of religious belief, agricultural practice and social structure.

The suffering caused by the plague is dealt with comparatively briefly; it arrives on page 127 and is over in eight weeks. It was random, the godly fell as easily as the sinners. Its gruesome symptoms are described; individual lives sketched in their final hours. There is not much more to say about boils and the stench, "bring out your dead" and paint the crosses on the doors. Hatcher invents characters to propel the story. The book has the subtitle "A Intimate History" and I suppose this was it.

Essentially this is a book about terror. What I did not fully appreciate was that they knew what was coming a long time before it arrived. Reports of the epidemic travelled well ahead of the actual infection; by 1346, it was known to be on the Caspian then its progress charted city by city. Death, horrible and agonising, was coming ever nearer; it was only a matter of time. It arrived in Weymouth, Dorset, in 1348. In the Suffolk village it came in the Spring 1349. How would our society react knowing that half of us would be dead in two or three years?

What they did was turn to religion.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book could be edited down to a third of its size - especially if you remove the tedious repetition. I managed up to page 119 (of 356) before I admitted defeat. Really, I felt that this was historical fiction and, 'gripping' it certainly was not.
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By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 Sept. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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