What better book to read during a pandemic than one written on the worst pandemic in human history. The Great Mortality is a fascinating history of the bubonic plague that devastated Europe and Asia in the 14th century. Black Death killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Europe, or about one third of the entire population!
Our modern mind can probably not even comprehend death and misery at this scale, and our current pandemic seems like a walk in the park compared to the Black Death. The book itself deals with this grim subject in a very interesting manner. It lays the foundation by talking about the causes of the plague, its origin, and then traces the plague as it moves from one European city to another.
The author has relied on historical accounts as well as personal diaries, and as a result some passages in the book are deeply moving, and saddening.
The book also tells you a little about life in the Middle Ages in Europe, and you learn about how Astrology was still a prominent part of medicine at the time, and most sailing was sailing from one port to another, not open sea sailing (which is probably how the plague spread).
My favorite parts in the book were those that touched on human nature especially because you can see how nothing has changed in seven hundred years.
For instance, you can see a desperate attempt by some people to give a racist overtone to the current pandemic, and during the Black Death there was strong anti-semitism on display, and large swathes of people blamed Jews for the disease. Mass execution of Jews became common in a lot of countries, and a lot of Jews were persecuted because people convinced themselves that Jews had poisoned wells, and were responsible for deaths.
Another crazy thing is how the demand for notaries increased during this time. A large number of deaths meant that people needed to write their wills, and the orderly transfer of property from the living to the dead became very important, and therefore notaries became high in demand.
Voltaire said that History never repeats itself. Man does. Reading this book made me feel that I understood what he meant for the first time.
Personally, I loved this book, but I do realize it is not for everyone. It is a grim subject in grim times, but what I did like was that it provided perspective, and informed me on how good things are even when they are really bad.