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1 Burnside Western Civilization- Medieval

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time

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The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

Oimmeddam

Feodosiya sits on the eastern coast of the crimea, a rectangular spit of land where the Eurasian steppe stops to dip its toe into the Black Sea. Today the city is a rusty wasteland of post-Soviet decay. But in the Middle Ages, when Feodosiya was called Caffa and a Genoese proconsul sat in a white palace above the harbor, the city was one of the fastest-growing ports in the medieval world. In 1266, when the Genoese first arrived in southern Russia, Caffa was a primitive fishing village tucked away far from the eyes of God and man on the dark side of the Crimea — a collection of windswept lean-tos set between an empty sea and a ring of low-rising hills. Eighty years later, seventy thousand to eighty thousand people coursed through Caffa's narrow streets, and a dozen different tongues echoed through its noisy markets. Thrusting church spires and towers crowded the busy skyline, while across the bustling town docks flowed Merdacaxi silks from Central Asia, sturgeon from the Don, slaves from the Ukraine, and timber and furs from the great Russian forests to the north. Surveying Caffa in 1340, a Muslim visitor declared it a handsome town of "beautiful markets with a worthy port in which I saw two hundred ships big and small."

It would be an exaggeration to say that the Genoese willed Caffa into existence, but not a large exaggeration. No city-state bestrode the age of city-states with a more operatic sense of destiny — none possessed a more fervent desire to cut a bella figura in the world — than Genoa. The city's galleys could be found in every port from London to the Black Sea, its merchants in every trading center from Aleppo (Syria) to Peking. The invincible courage and extraordinary seamanship of the Genoese mariner was legendary. Long before Christopher Columbus, there were the Vivaldi brothers, Ugolino and Vadino, who fell off the face of the earth laughing at death as they searched for a sea route to India. Venice, Genoa's great rival, might carp that she was "a city of sea without fish,...men without faith, and women without shame," but Genoese grandeur was impervious to such insults. In Caffa, Genoa built a monument to itself. The port's sunlit piazzas and fine stone houses, the lovely women who walked along its quays with the brocades of Persia on their backs and the perfumes of Arabia gracing their skin, were monuments to Genoese wealth, virtue, piety, and imperial glory.

As an Italian poet of the time noted,
And so many are the Genoese
And so spread ... throughout the world
That wherever one goes and stays
He makes another Genoa there.

Caffa's meteoric rise to international prominence also owed something to geography and economics. Between 1250 and 1350 the medieval world experienced an early burst of globalization, and Caffa, located at the southeastern edge of European Russia, was perfectly situated to exploit the new global economy. To the north, through a belt of dense forest, lay the most magnificent land route in the medieval world, the Eurasian steppe, a great green ribbon of rolling prairie, swaying high grass, and big sky that could deliver a traveler from the Crimea to China in eight to twelve months. To the west lay the teeming port of Constantinople, wealthiest city in Christendom, and beyond Constantinople, the slave markets of the Levant, where big-boned, blond Ukrainians fetched a handsome price at auction. Farther west lay Europe, where the tangy spices of Ceylon and Java and the sparkling diamonds of Golconda were in great demand. And between these great poles of the medieval world lay Caffa, with its "worthy port" and phalanx of mighty Russian rivers: the Volga and Don immediately to the east, the Dnieper to the west. In the first eight decades of Genoese rule the former fishing village doubled, tripled, and quadrupled in size. Then the population quadrupled a second, third, and fourth time; new neighborhoods and churches sprang up; six thousand new houses rose inside the city, and then an additional eleven thousand in the muddy flats beyond the town walls. Every year more ships arrived, and more fish and slaves and timber flowed across Caffa's wharves. On a fine spring evening in 1340, one can imagine the Genoese proconsul standing on his balcony, surveying the tall-masted ships bobbing on a twilight tide in the harbor, and thinking that Caffa would go on growing forever, that nothing would ever change, except that the city would grow ever bigger and wealthier. That dream, of course, was as fantastic a fairy tale in the fourteenth century as it is today. Explosive growth — and human hubris — always come with a price.

Before the arrival of the Genoese, Caffa's vulnerability to ecological disaster extended no farther than the few thousand meters of the Black Sea its fishermen fished and the half moon of sullen, windswept hills behind the city. By 1340 trade routes linked the port to places half a world away — places even the Genoese knew little about — and in some of the places strange and terrible things were happening. In the 1330s there were reports of tremendous environmental upheaval in China. Canton and Houkouang were said to have been lashed by cycles of torrential rain and parching drought, and in Honan mile-long swarms of locusts were reported to have blacked out the sun. Legend also has it that in this period, the earth under China gave way and whole villages disappeared into fissures and cracks in the ground. An earthquake is reported to have swallowed part of a city, Kingsai, then a mountain, Tsincheou, and in the mountains of Ki-ming-chan, to have torn open a hole large enough to create a new "lake a hundred leagues long." In Tche, it was said that 5 million people were killed in the upheavals. On the coast of the South China Sea, the ominous rumble of "subterranean thunder" was heard...

Product Details

ISBN:
9780060006921
Subtitle:
An Intimate History of the Black Death, The Most Devastating Plague of All Time
Author:
Kelly, John
Publisher:
Harper
Subject:
History
Subject:
Medieval
Subject:
Forensic Medicine
Subject:
Black death
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Publication Date:
20050201
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
9.04x6.46x1.21 in. 1.40 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » History of Medicine
History and Social Science » Western Civilization » Medieval

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time Used Hardcover
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$11.95 In Stock
Product details 384 pages HarperCollins Publishers - English 9780060006921 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The Black Death raced across Europe from the 1340s to the early 1350s, killing a third of the population. Drawing on recent research as well as firsthand accounts, veteran author Kelly (Three on the Edge, etc.) describes how infected rats, brought by Genoese trading ships returning from the East and docked in Sicily, carried fleas that spread the disease when they bit humans. Two types of plague seem to have predominated: bubonic plague, characterized by swollen lymph nodes and the bubo, a type of boil; and pneumonic plague, characterized by lung infection and spitting blood. Those stricken with plague died quickly. Survivors often attempted to flee, but the plague was so widespread that there was virtually no escape from infection. Kelly recounts the varied reactions to the plague. The citizens of Venice, for example, forged a civic response to the crisis, while Avignon fell apart. The author details the emergence of Flagellants, unruly gangs who believed the plague was a punishment from God and roamed the countryside flogging themselves as a penance. Rounding up and burning Jews, whom they blamed for the plague, the Flagellants also sparked widespread anti-Semitism. This is an excellent overview, accessible and engrossing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "This sweeping, viscerally exciting book contributes to a literature of perpetual fascination."
"Review" by , "A ground-level illustration of how the plague ravaged Europe?putting a vivid, human face on an unimaginable nightmare."
"Review" by , "A compelling and eminently readable portrait."
"Review" by , "John Kelly gives the reader a ferocious, pictorial account of the horrific ravages of [The Black Death]."
"Review" by , "Stunning. The Great Mortality [is endowed with] the sheer immediacy ancient history yields to only a few."
"Review" by , "It's almost unethical to write a book on human cataclysm as entertaining as The Great Mortality. Strange that a book about the worst natural disaster in European history should be so full of life. This book may be written in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman but there is a seething vitality here that is Kelly's alone."
"Review" by , "The Black Death is history's best-known pandemic, but until now its full history has not been written. In The Great Mortality John Kelly gives a human face to the 14th century disaster that claimed 75 million lives, a third of the world's population."
"Review" by , "A compelling and bone-chilling account."
"Synopsis" by , Kelly plunges the reader into the world of the Middle Ages, telling an age-old story with an air of immediacy and intimacy never before seen in plague literature, while drawing on the latest research to paint a new picture of the Black Death.
"Synopsis" by , A compelling and harrowing history of the Black Death epidemic that swept through Europe in the      mid-14th century killing 25 million people. It was one of the most devastating human disasters in history.

The bodies were sparsely covered that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured them . And believing it to be the end of the world, no one wept for the dead, for all expected to die. Agnolo di Turo, Siena, 1348

In just over 1000 days from 1347 to 1351 the 'Black Death' swept across medieval Europe killing 30% of it's population. It was a catastrophe that touched the lives of every individual on the continent. The deadly Y. Pestis virus entered Europe by Genoese galley at Messina, Sicily in October 1347. By the spring of 1348 it was devastating the cities of central Italy, by June 1348 it had swept in to France and Spain, and by August it had reached England. One graphic testimony can be found at St Mary's, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, where an anonymous hand carved a harrowing inscription for 1349: 'Wretched, terrible, destructive year, the remnants of the people alone remain.'

According to the Foster scale, a kind of Richter scale of human disaster, the plague of 1347-51 is the second worst catastrophe in recorded history. Only World War II produced more death, physical damage, and emotional suffering. It is also the closest thing that Defence Analysts compare a thermonuclear war to - in geographical extent, abruptness and casualties.

In The Great Mortality John Kelly retraces the journey of the Black Death using original source material - diary fragments, letters, manuscripts - as it swept across Europe. It is harrowing portrait of a continent gripped by anepidemic, but also a very personal story narrated by the individuals whose lives were touched by it.

 

 

"Synopsis" by , A compelling and harrowing history of the Black Death epidemic that swept through Europe in the mid–14th century killing 25 million people. It was one of the most devastating human disasters in history.

"The bodies were sparsely covered that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured them . And believing it to be the end of the world, no one wept for the dead, for all expected to die." Agnolo di Turo, Siena, 1348

In just over 1000 days from 1347 to 1351 the 'Black Death' swept across medieval Europe killing 30% of it's population. It was a catastrophe that touched the lives of every individual on the continent. The deadly Y. Pestis virus entered Europe by Genoese galley at Messina, Sicily in October 1347. By the spring of 1348 it was devastating the cities of central Italy, by June 1348 it had swept in to France and Spain, and by August it had reached England. One graphic testimony can be found at St Mary's, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, where an anonymous hand carved a harrowing inscription for 1349: 'Wretched, terrible, destructive year, the remnants of the people alone remain.'

According to the Foster scale, a kind of Richter scale of human disaster, the plague of 1347–51 is the second worst catastrophe in recorded history. Only World War II produced more death, physical damage, and emotional suffering. It is also the closest thing that Defence Analysts compare a thermonuclear war to – in geographical extent, abruptness and casualties.

In The Great Mortality John Kelly retraces the journey of the Black Death using original source material – diary fragments, letters, manuscripts – as it swept across Europe. It is harrowing portrait of a continent gripped by an epidemic, but also a very personal story narrated by the individuals whose lives were touched by it.

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