In the Wake of the Plague

In the Wake of the Plague



Norman F. Cantor’s In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made, discusses exactly what the title says, the effects of the Black Death in medieval Europe.  Instead of focusing on what the plague was and its medical effects on those who were stricken with it, Cantor describes what the loss of life meant for those who survived.  He illustrates the changes that occured in art and the Church, for property owners, lords, and peasents, the breakdown of the gentry system due to the death of heirs and the dowry-rights of widows, and the plague’s impact on the feudal system overall.  Furthermore, Cantor goes into detail about the blame placed upon the Jewish community.

Cantor’s work is also interesting in that he claims that in all likelyhood the Black Death was not merely a pandemic of the Bubonic Plague spread by infected fleas borne upon rats, but also an outbreak of cattle anthrax.  He also describes the incredible discovery that the ancestors of those who survived the plague outbreak in the 1340’s may now be immune to HIV and thus AIDS. 

Furthermore, Cantor makes correlations to the works and lives of famous literary figures, most living hundreds of years after the Black Death, such as Virginia Woolfe, Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkein, George Bernard Shaw, and Thomas Hardy.  He also compares the Black Death with other plagues in antiquity and present, such as ghonnorea, smallpox, and AIDS.

Finally, In the Wake of the Plague is filled with some interesting, and entertaining factoids, such as that women of the Middle Ages did not wear underwear and that Medieval nuns were the first to breed racing dogs.

Cantor does wander quite a bit in his topics, and he could have used a better editor; there are many awkward sentences and instances of improper grammer.  An interesting read though on the long lasting effects of a disease.


This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Nonfiction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to In the Wake of the Plague

  1. kissyface says:

    Wuh-ho! If I remember correctly, that was a long book. Nonfiction. That doesn’t work for me.

    I’m kidding, it sounds interesting. Have you read “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks? Looks good.

  2. Gina says:

    I am reading this right now for research for an english project, and I’m definitely finding it interesting. But i’m really wanting to know the artist of the cover art so that i can find an image of the actual artwork, and am wondering if you know? i looked in the front few pages and also the index and bibliography but not finding anything.

  3. sadiejean says:

    Hey Gina,

    Glad you’re finding the book interesting. I did a little research about the cover, but like you I can’t come up with a title or artist. It reminds me of Peter Bruegel’s “Triumph of Death” from 1562, but that’s not it. Sorry I couldn’t help, and good luck on the project!

  4. Pingback: Encephalosponge » Strange Diseases, Oh My!

  5. brandi says:

    I was actually looking for the artist for the cover painting and it is Bruegel…It’s just facing the opposite direction…just thought I would let ya know in case someone was wondering

  6. cbanis says:

    What I thought interesting is that Cantor entertained the idea that the Black Death wasn’t necessarily responsible for the decline of the Middle Ages, but that a decline was already happening and that the bubonic plague, anthrax, and other infectious diseases were having their way with a society that was crumbling.

    According to In The Wake of the Plague, Cantor asserts that many of those in the position of power who could have done anything about it ran away to live in their homes in the country. The religious mind-frame of the region was of a heavy “negative spiritualism,” meaning that people thought they were being punished for their sins and that it was meaningless to fight it.

    This spirit of giving up (combined with the nonexistence of medical defense) could have been a big reason why the “Great Pestilence” was allowed to run rampant, and not, in fact, a Jewish conspiracy.

    Good read, good reading selections in the back.

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