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In the Wake of the Plague

The Black Death and the World It Made
Written by: Norman F. Cantor
Narrated by: Bill Wallace
Length: 6 hrs and 29 mins
Categories: History, Europe
4.5 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Much of what we know about the greatest medical disaster ever, the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, is wrong. The details of the Plague etched in the minds of terrified schoolchildren – the hideous black welts, the high fever, and the final, awful end by respiratory failure – are more or less accurate. But what the Plague really was, and how it made history, remain shrouded in a haze of myths.

Norman Cantor, the premier historian of the Middle Ages, draws together the most recent scientific discoveries and groundbreaking historical research to pierce the mist and tell the story of the Black Death afresh, as a gripping, intimate narrative.

©2001 Norman F. Cantor (P)2003 Recorded Books

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Nancy
  • 2004-03-08

Just the ticket

I enjoy books that use an interdisciplinary approach to explore a subject, such as "Salt" by Mark Kurlansky or books by Jared Diamond. This book was right up my alley; I learned a lot that piqued my interest to learn more about the Middle Ages in Europe. The reader was an enjoyable combination of cultured-sounding and conversational. The pace was just right for me to follow the details (while driving) without rolling my eyes in impatience. It was relaxing, yet stimulating.

34 of 36 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Anne
  • 2009-01-22

Don't waste time or money

Cantor's lack of perception regarding the Medieval period shines through! The "facts" that he presents are a hodge-podge of mostly old scholarship firmly entrenched in the "horrible Dark Ages" mentality. Further, the presentation of the factual material rarely breaks the surface and is more misleading than informative. Cantor's attempts at humor and shock tactics might work well in a classromm of freshmen or sophmores in a compulsory course, but provide no relief for someone choosing to read, or hear, the book.

Unfortunately, I also found the reader's voice and intonation nerve-scratching.

Read Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror" instead (I don't recommend trying to listen to it) for an informative, well researched, and well written account of the 14th century horrors (and there certainly were horrors!). John Hatcher's "The Black Death: A Personal History" presents the impact of the plague in another highly readable book. For more scholarly coverage, try Ziegler's classic, "Black Death," or Aberth's more recent "On the Brink of the Apocalypse."

33 of 38 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Eric
  • 2005-10-02

Very Slanted with Errors

The author attempts to create a humorous feel in his narritive but the sarcastic and dry attempts at humor more often than not end up squewing the viewpoint so much that it jerks you out of the narrative and makes you aware of the slant that the information is being filtered through. He also makes quite a few errors. My favorite is that the medieval cross bow required two people and a half an hour to load. Overall while the information was intresting I wasn't sure what was accurate and what wasn't since I was spotting errors and spun facts all over the place. while entertaining this book was more torturing than fun.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Edward J. Stack
  • 2015-06-05

An Exceptional History by a GREAT SCHOLAR

Would you listen to In the Wake of the Plague again? Why?

This Book has an incredible amount of factual information that weaves a rich understanding and feeling for the 14th Century. I am sorry for all the Arm Chair Historians and Medical Experts that are just above Brain Dead and get bored so easily. They do not have the right to shine Cantor's Shoes. They might not like how he portrays this difficult time and how badly the Jews were treated but wake up and get a feeling of how unpleasant and transient this period of time was. I do not feel any criticism for a supposed sense of humor but feel he tried to treat every situation as even handed as he could to keep himself above reproach and observe scholarly respect for his words and information.

What other book might you compare In the Wake of the Plague to and why?

I am ordering his other two Middle Ages books ( 18 to 20 hours each ??) and one of them being newly revised. One of them takes influences from B.C. times and how they influenced the Middle Ages to be what they were. I am sure I will enjoy them. I wish the reviewers were a little more intelligent and had some exposure to life and the World before giving a book One Star that the fault was with themselves exposing their incapacity to ??

Which scene was your favorite?

The Opening Chapter dealing with Rodents and Cattle diseases and some understanding of how poorly this information of Plague was reported as they had no idea of what was happening at the time. How cattle raisers were vulnerable to certain diseases and how certain monasteries had many deaths but not necessarily from the Plague. Many good questions brought up. Interesting to find out which diseases could have co-existed with the Plague at the same time and how some characteristics of the diseases precluded the Plague being responsible for all deaths.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Chapter #3 King Edward's Daughter Joan traveled to Bordeaux for a Wedding and died 1348 from the Plague after arriving by ship and staying in official housing ( Royal Chateau) near the Docks and Rats !! Body never returned to England !! Was this some of Cantor's Humor ??

Any additional comments?

Thanks for being there AUDIBLE --It is just joy and ease to have all this available.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Laura
  • 2013-11-20

I'm surprised at the negative reviews!

I really enjoyed this audio book. Great content. Great narrator. Narrator is perfect.

Some of the negative comments I read were:
1) Skewed negative skew on part of author, making the dark ages out to be all bad, evil, backward and generally horrible.
2) Made out all lords and church officials out to be greedy, murderous villains and the root of all evil.
3) Incoherent book structure, dry presentation and cherry picked fact, and incomplete narrative of the black death because origin is not sufficiently covered.

I am not a expert of the Dark Ages but I have read SEVERAL books on plagues and epidemics including the black death. This was the best book I have read so far. The mysterious inconsistency of the recorded history of the black death was well explained here. The current leading theories the explained, symptom, time lines, outbreaks and environments were described/explained effectively, and researchers and historians and historical records were referenced. Through the whole book, records from the time are referenced. I found the entire book to be well referenced, well explained, effectively presented and believable. Sections were separated by population class, and had a timeline through and after the many waves of plague. For example, gentry, peasants and church officials had their own sections on how they were effected during and after the plague. I found this presentation effective, easy to follow, and in my opinion, this format was by far the best choice.

As for those complaining about the negative portrayal of the Dark Ages, well, uh, it is called the Dark Ages for a reason. People were greedy, racist, and locked into a class system that left many people stuck in poverty and servitude through the generations. Jews were blames for the plague and burned. People were tortured routinely. Officials were bribed. The medical/scientific people were ineffective against the plague and believed the plague was caused by sin, witchcraft, Jews poisoning, "bad humor"ect. But, even so, the author gives examples of educated female intellectuals, generous lords taking care of their surfs, providing churches, mills, and such, churches having female preachers and leaders. I'm not sure what some readers expected, chivalry, noble knights, fairytales and robinhood heroes? But, the Dark Ages certainly wasn't all white knights and gentile lords and ladies, but neither does the author portray all people and everything as horrible evil darkness.

As for the complaints about lack of focus on the origins of the black death, the author DOES address/explain it effectively and thoroughly. But, the title of the book is "The Wake" of the black death, meaning AFTER the black death, and so this is the focus of the book, which I found fascinating. There is many details and examples given that illustrate the times and effects of the black death perfectly.

I highly recommend this book. It appears to be well researched and referenced. It is well laid out and conveys its content extremely well. This, coupled with a talented narrator, made for an enjoyable as well as educational listen.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Margaret
  • 2008-03-03

I didn't think it was possible

to write a boring book about such a fascinating topic. Unfortunately, this is it. Even worse, there are occasional throwaway tidbits (apparently scientists are not really as positive about the rats, fleas, plague connection as I was led to believe in my history classes) that popped up and were then dropped. Just enough to keep me listening, but not enough to relieve my eventual frustration. With a lot of editing this might have been a decent 4 hour book.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Ryan
  • 2004-07-16

Review of

There are two main problems with this work. The first and most problematic characteristic is that it actually covers very little of the plague's origins (both geographical and bio-medical), its connection between animal and humans, and its physical impact on the human body. Second, the "world" (alluded in the subtitle) consist mainly parts of southern Great Britain and the coastal regions of France. Overall, ehe work gets muddled in the detailed and dry history of British royalty rather than the plague's effect on continental Europe and peripheral regions. There work feels fragmented and mired in British ethnocentricity.

32 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Stacy R
  • 2008-06-19

Very interesting and enlightening

I'm not much on history, but this book was written in a manner which kept my attention. Knowing how the many deaths might have affected current populations is very thought provoking.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Pierre
  • 2004-09-23

Great perspective

Very thought-provoking. It's fascinating to analyze history with the perspective of the social changes wreaked by the Plague.

For instance, latin may have declined because the learned class had to assume the roles of the vanished tradesmen and forego professional careers.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Eunice
  • 2008-04-21

Great history lesson!

When buying this book, I imagined something akin to the work of Poe. A great surprise awaited, though! This book took a fascinating look at the plague from so many vantage points...political ramifications, climate changes of the era (guess they forgot to buy their carbon credits....), cultural effects. All things I'd never thought of before, and all thought provoking. A very interesting educating read.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful