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The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year [Hardcover]

A. Lloyd Moote , Dorothy C. Moote
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Book Description

Jan. 20 2004

In the winter of 1664-65, a bitter cold descended on London in the days before Christmas. Above the city, an unusually bright comet traced an arc in the sky, exciting much comment and portending "horrible windes and tempests." And in the remote, squalid precinct of St. Giles-in-the-Fields outside the city wall, Goodwoman Phillips was pronounced dead of the plague. Her house was locked up and the phrase "Lord Have Mercy On Us" was painted on the door in red. By the following Christmas, the pathogen that had felled Goodwoman Phillips would go on to kill nearly 100,000 people living in and around London -- almost a third of those who did not flee. This epidemic had a devastating effect on the city's economy and social fabric, as well as on those who lived through it. Yet somehow the city continued to function and the activities of daily life went on.

In The Great Plague, historian A. Lloyd Moote and microbiologist Dorothy C. Moote provide an engrossing and deeply informed account of this cataclysmic plague year. At once sweeping and intimate, their narrative takes readers from the palaces of the city's wealthiest citizens to the slums that housed the vast majority of London's inhabitants to the surrounding countryside with those who fled. The Mootes reveal that, even at the height of the plague, the city did not descend into chaos. Doctors, apothecaries, surgeons, and clergy remained in the city to care for the sick; parish and city officials confronted the crisis with all the legal tools at their disposal; and commerce continued even as businesses shut down.

To portray life and death in and around London, the authors focus on the experiences of nine individuals -- among them an apothecary serving a poor suburb, the rector of the city's wealthiest parish, a successful silk merchant who was also a city alderman, a country gentleman, and famous diarist Samuel Pepys. Through letters and diaries, the Mootes offer fresh interpretations of key issues in the history of the Great Plague: how different communities understood and experienced the disease; how medical, religious, and government bodies reacted; how well the social order held together; the economic and moral dilemmas people faced when debating whether to flee the city; and the nature of the material, social, and spiritual resources sustaining those who remained.

Underscoring the human dimensions of the epidemic, Lloyd and Dorothy Moote dramatically recast the history of the Great Plague and offer a masterful portrait of a city and its inhabitants besieged by -- and defiantly resisting -- unimaginable horror.


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From Publishers Weekly

The Mootes have written an extraordinary and insightful account of life in London during 1665, when nearly 100,000 people died of the plague. They detail the havoc unleashed upon the city and the efforts of the large number of people who stayed behind rather than fleeing. The Mootes apply their knowledge of history (Lloyd Moote) and microbiology (Dorothy Moote) to analyze the results of their original archival research, most notably the city's weekly "Bills of Mortality" and unpublished documents including publicly distributed pamphlets, personal correspondences, business ledgers and medical records. The story they tell is of two Londons, the working poor of the "alleys and cellars and tenements," and the rich, titled and merchant classes, and how they become "interdependent" during 1665. In a powerful narrative device, the authors often incorporate the words of real people, including Samuel Pepys, who continued risky business arrangements and a "wide range of exotic adventures"; Symon Patrick, the rector of metropolitan London's wealthiest congregation; and Nathaniel Hodges, a doctor who valiantly sought to find a cure for the disease in the face of popular healers selling self-proclaimed "wonder drugs," as well as outdated medical practices. The book also details how the Restoration government was woefully unprepared for dealing with the plague; an epilogue on the development of microbiology and antibiotic cures forcefully argues that modern society still needs to be better prepared for future infectious diseases.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

The Mootes write with an impressive combination of storytelling and scholarship... Their work provides an example that local historians might consider copying for other locations in Britain. Ancestors Magazine The Mootes' enthusiasm at their archival discoveries flavours their lively account of the Plague Year. London Review of Books 2005 This is now the best book available on London's 1665 plague epidemic. Sixteenth Century Journal An extraordinary and insightful account of life in London during 1665, when nearly 100,000 people died of the plague... The story they tell is of two Londons, the working poor of the 'alleys and cellars and tenements,' and the rich, titled, and merchant classes, and how they became 'interdependent' during 1665... An epilogue on the development of microbiology and antibiotic cures forcefully argues that modern society still needs to be better prepared for future infectious diseases. Publishers Weekly Extraordinarily accomplished... A book of rare distinction, one that is able to analyze a city in crisis while never losing sight of the individual lives contained within it. From the tiniest microbe to the most blustery regal proclamation, there seem to be no aspect of Pestered London to which the Mootes did not have access. Guardian 2004 In this excellent book, husband and wife Lloyd and Dorothy Moote, a historian and biologist, respectively, have brilliantly captured the human, medical, and political dimensions of the Great Plague in London and the surrounding areas. New England Journal of Medicine 2004 The Great Plague is a great read. The authors skillfully integrate evidence from a number of sources, and their enthusiasm for their subject is infectious. -- Tom Beaumont James, PhD, FSA JAMA In this crowded field, this jewel of a book brings a new dimension by telling the story of how the rich and the poor who stayed rather than escaped survived rather than died, maintained order rather than succumbed to chaos, and provided support and sustenance rather than betrayal and impedance. Choice 2004 This is a great story of the great plague of London in the 1660s... Fascinating. Journal of the American Association of Forensic Dentists 2007 The authors... have produced a readable and reasonable account that should now be the first choice of readers who want to know the story. -- J.N. Hays Medical History 2008

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First Sentence
In a remote, squalid section of Saint Giles in the Fields, outside London's wall, on Christmas Eve in 1664, the parish's "searchers"-old women paid to determine the cause of death-pronounced that Goodwoman Phillips had died of plague. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Human Side of Plague July 13 2004
Format:Hardcover
The word "plague" is one of the most dreaded in Europe. For over a thousand years, Europe was the victim of a series of epidemics which decimated the population. One of the last of these epidemics was the Great Plague of London in 1665 that killed probably a third of the population and left few families untouched.
Plagues are a huge subject. Even today there is little agreement between medical experts as to which pandemics were caused by Yersinia pestis (the bacillus almost certainly responsible for the 1665 plague); what was the contagiousness and morbidity of the various strains of plague; and what were all the ways that it could be transmitted to humans. Then there are all the complicated social questions to sort out: What was cause, what effect, and what coincidence? All this has to be carefully determined from the artifacts left by a largely superstitious and semi-literate society in desperate times.
The husband and wife team of Lloyd and Dorothy Moote have pooled their skills in European history and medical research to examine the human side of the Great Plague. By going back to original source materials, they have provided an intimate picture of life during the plague year that is as free as possible from the myths and misunderstandings that have grown up around the subject. Most valuably, their interpretation of events is sensitive to the knowledge and beliefs of the people at the time. This was an afflicted community only three hundred years after the Black Death - one of the world's greatest horrors - and two hundred years before scientists such as Filippo Pacini, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch would connect disease to an "organic, living substance of a parasitic nature.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Human Side of Plague July 13 2004
By Celia Redmore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The word "plague" is one of the most dreaded in Europe. For over a thousand years, Europe was the victim of a series of epidemics which decimated the population. One of the last of these epidemics was the Great Plague of London in 1665 that killed probably a third of the population and left few families untouched.
Plagues are a huge subject. Even today there is little agreement between medical experts as to which pandemics were caused by Yersinia pestis (the bacillus almost certainly responsible for the 1665 plague); what was the contagiousness and morbidity of the various strains of plague; and what were all the ways that it could be transmitted to humans. Then there are all the complicated social questions to sort out: What was cause, what effect, and what coincidence? All this has to be carefully determined from the artifacts left by a largely superstitious and semi-literate society in desperate times.
The husband and wife team of Lloyd and Dorothy Moote have pooled their skills in European history and medical research to examine the human side of the Great Plague. By going back to original source materials, they have provided an intimate picture of life during the plague year that is as free as possible from the myths and misunderstandings that have grown up around the subject. Most valuably, their interpretation of events is sensitive to the knowledge and beliefs of the people at the time. This was an afflicted community only three hundred years after the Black Death - one of the world's greatest horrors - and two hundred years before scientists such as Filippo Pacini, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch would connect disease to an "organic, living substance of a parasitic nature."
Other books on the plague have tended to concentrate on the epidemiological and political aspects of pandemics. "The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year" is a very welcome addition to the literature because of its careful and sympathetic treatment of the human side of plague.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mankind's continuous fight with the microbial world Sept. 10 2004
By Atheen M. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Wow, talk about a depressing book.

The Great Plague is not the story of the Twentieth Century flu epidemic, or about the Black Death of the Fourteenth. It is about the bubonic plague of Seventeenth Century London during the reign of Charles II. This was the epidemic that drove Newton to return to his home town to confront the famous apple; it is the epidemic that preceded the Great Fire of 1666; it is the Pepys' Diary world.

Probably more than anything, this book, like that on the Great Fire of London, proves the value of diarists and their contemporary accounts. While the facts of the devastation could be adequately conveyed by graph and statistics alone, the emotional impact of the event can not begin to be demonstrated by numbers alone. The courage of the population at every level of society as they attempted to carry on their daily lives despite the devastation all around them was amazing. Even those who fled the city because they could afford to do so, provided financial support to those who could not. The psychological toll that months of death cost is evident in many of the diaries. Even the ever buoyant and optimistic Samuel Pepys, the civil servant's civil servant, began to show cracks in his armor.

One of the things that most impressed upon me the reality of the plague was the staggering demands for burial property. Churchyards were used and reused for single burials, and empty land around the town was used for mass graves. Just disposal of the dead became a major problem. It reminded me of the same issues that arose in the aftermath of the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, only this was a "hurricane" that lasted over a year and produced far more fatalities!

Another point that impressed me was the incredible competence and active involvement of James, Duke of York, the king's brother. While Charles II fled the city for safety, James remained in London to conduct both the naval war with the Dutch and to keep the city stable during the plague. He did much the same during the great fire that occurred shortly after the plague died out. He sounds like a very useful person.

As a health care practitioner myself, I found the alignments of the various elements of the health care world of the time of considerable interest. The conflict between the medical establishment, the pharmacists, the surgeons, and the herbalists during this time helped to define the hierarchy of health care as it is today. It also showed that when confronted by a pandemic of this magnitude society was pretty much helpless. That reality comes through in discussions of the flu pandemic of 1918 (for which see The Great Influenza, by John Barry) as well. With the rise of drug resistant strains of bacteria and viruses like HIV, one wonders if society will one day once again be helpless in the face of a virulent plague.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 5 on details, 3 to 4 on story writting June 10 2006
By Stephen McHenry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Thoroughly researched and presented with details about the lives of the people living in London at the time and the statistics of those who fled, those who stayed, and those who perished; bravery and cowardice and greed; the brutal conditions of the poor, the lack of effective medical knowledge, the treatment of those not of the Anglican church (Quakers, Catholics, Jews). The rich could run away, and of the remaining population half or more died, faster than they could be buried, the church bells breaking because they were being rung all day long for the numerous dead. Using diaries, letters, church records and published works of the time the authors present life and death in London and the surrounding areas in the year 1645. The narrative relies heavily on Samuel Pepys diary, which is an excellent source, and the main part of the story is told without the knowledge of modern medicine and causes being introduced. That part is left to an interesting epilogue that tells the story of how the source of the plague was discovered, a very interesting section in itself. Recommended for the insight into medicine and the world of 1645 and to human nature under stress.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Many Intersting Facts, Yet as a Whole Almost Dull June 11 2005
By Drew W. Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A more complete story of the London Plague is probably not available. But the character's stories of survival, heroism, charity and cowardness are fractured; here their stories are begun, dropped, begun again without a clear feeling that the story should have been dropped. It seems almost in mid-thought that the authors decide to go on to something that suddenly catches their interest without regard that the reader wants a more convincing reason, or better understanding as to why the subject has been changed.

The Epilogue is a different matter. Clear, concise, flowing well, a steady exposition of the bacterial infection (a flea from a black rat) how it evolved and changed over time. The theory of why it has not returned is compelling and persuasive. It is interesting. The style used here would, if used throughout the book, have improved it immensely.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent documentation Sept. 27 2010
By G. Henson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The authors use the diaries legal documents of the age to paint a vivid picture of London's Great Plague of 1665. Much easier to read than many non-fiction treatments because of the use of people rather than raw facts to tell the story. Recommended.
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