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Plague, Pestilence and Pandemic

Voices from History

Peter Furtado

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A collection of intimate and revelatory first-hand accounts of pandemics through the ages

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Humanity has always been struck by pestilence and pandemics, from the plagues of ancient Egypt to the pox that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages, to Covid-19. People living through the crises have always recorded what they saw, what they felt, and what they did. Some presented sober facts laced with anecdote, while others produced emotional outpourings; moralists speculated on the origins of the horror, poets distilled the suffering. Doctors described how they were able to advance their understanding of disease and scientists how to cure it, while survivors and the families of victims gave the inside story of the nightmare that develops when a long-feared disease enters your home or your body.

There was a time when to read accounts of the Plague in Wittenburg by Martin Luther or the Great Plague of 1665 by Samuel Pepys – scenes of anguish and woe, empty streets, quarantined houses, closed businesses, overflowing graveyards, heroic doctors and nurses, quack remedies and charlatans – was to enter a disturbing and unfamiliar world. Today, to read the same words is to be hit by a jolt of recognition and understanding. As well as causing a huge loss of life, the Covid pandemic has taught us a great deal about ourselves and the way we live, illuminating tensions at the heart of society. This collection of intimate and revelatory first-hand accounts of pandemics through the ages bears witness to despair, rage, the blackest of humour, heartbreak and hope. These voices hold up a mirror to our own experiences of, and responses to, the crisis today.


'Insightful, moving and empathetic'
BBC History Magazine

'Fascinating… Through tracing the social, political and public-health responses evoked by disease-related disasters across the globe, readers can empathise with individuals separated by centuries and oceans… resonates strongly in today's world'

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.5 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 336 pp

Illustrations: 9

Publication date: 11 March 2021

ISBN: 9780500252581

Contents List

Introduction • 1. Plagues of Egypt • 2. Athenian plague – 5th century BC • 3. Antonine Plague – 2nd century AD • 4. Plague of Justinian – 6th century • 5. Leprosy – 11–14th centuries • 6. Black Death – 14th century • 7. Sweating sickness – 15–16th centuries • 8. Syphilis – 16th century • 9. Cocolitztli epidemic, Mexico – 16th century • 10. New World Smallpox – 16–17th century • 11. Great Plague (or Marseilles plague) – 1660s • 12. Russian Plague – 1770s • 13. Cholera – 1850s • 14. Flu – 1890s • 15. Spanish flu – 1910s • 16. Polio – 1911 – 1980s • 17. Asian flu – 1950s • 18. Hong Kong flu – 1968 19. AIDS – 1980s • 20. Swine flu – 2000s • 21. SARs, MERs et al. – 2010s • 22. Covid-19 – 2020s • Conclusion Timeline of Catastrophes • Index

About the Author

Peter Furtado is the former editor of History Today. His publications include the Sunday Times bestselling Histories of Nations, as well as Revolutions: How They Changed History and What They Mean Today and Great Cities Through Travellers’ Eyes.

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