A brisk synthesis of Black Death studies--encompassing both the old focus on the plague's social and economic consequences...

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THE BLACK DEATH: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe

A brisk synthesis of Black Death studies--encompassing both the old focus on the plague's social and economic consequences and the new ""environmental approach"" (viz. William McNeill's Plagues and People, 1976). As the environmentalists see it, medieval society was weakened, from 1250 on, by a series of bad harvests and famines. The 1347 plague not only exacerbated an already serious situation, but ushered in something worse: a series of plagues that struck every few years thereafter. Focusing on these conditions, recent historians favor topics like weather patterns, disease transmission, and the life cycle of vermin. Rutgers historian Gottfried summarizes the various schools of plague-interpretation expeditiously in his introduction; then, he recounts the history of the plague in terms of r. rattus and v. pestis, as well as depopulation and social discontent and other upheavals. The treatment--rather lecture-like--varies in its effectiveness. On the broad cultural effects of the Black Death, Gottfried makes conventional points mechanically (""individualism was generally directed towards self-aggrandizement and the pursuit of leisure and pleasure""). On specific phenomena like the growth of municipal power--part of the general ""laicization of society""--he has interesting, well-organized details. And on one particular topic, the plague's impact on the medical profession, he has an outstanding chapter of historical analysis based partly on his own research: there, we see the theoretical and philosophical practice of medicine give way to practical anatomy, vernacular medical texts, and self-help books for laymen. The obvious audience--college students--might well be filled out by inquisitive readers of various historical orientations.

Pub Date: June 1, 1983

ISBN: 0029123704

Page Count: -

Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983