Sunday, December 3, 2006

In the Wake of the Plague

In the Wake of the Plague: the Black Death and the World it Made (Norman Cantor, 2001), was a milestone book for me--the 100th book I read this year. I'd feel like my reading year was a bit of a flop if I didn't make it into triple digits.

"My" era, the one I've written about so far, is the early decades of the 19th century--the English Regency and the Napoleonic Wars. But I doubt it's the only era I'll ever write, and in any case I don't want to develop too narrow of a focus. Not good for the mind, IMO. So I read a lot of history, as my schedule allows, whatever appeals to me.

So. Cantor's book doesn't try to be a thorough history of the plague. It's more a series of essays, a bit rambling and impressionistic, discussing the culture the Black Death struck and how the great mortality changed that world. Each chapter describes a person or institution impacted by the plague. He doesn't dwell on the biomedical aspects of the plague, though he seems convinced that the epidemic wasn't entirely plague, but may have also involved something like a mutant strain of anthrax. It sounds wacky to me, but I'm curious enough to want to learn more.

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