David Herlihy ; edited and with an introduction by Samuel K. Cohn, Jr
It ravaged a continent for over a century, killed millions of people and decimated economies. The Black Death is considered by many to have been the great watershed in medieval history. In this book the author challenges historical thinking about this disastrous period. He asks was the Black Death bubonic plague? Nobody ever mentions rats dying in large numbers. Were buboes the main symptoms? Doctors of the day and evidence from the lives of saints describe "freckles" as often as buboes. Looking beyond the view of the Black Death as unmitigated catastrophe, the author sees in it the birth of technological advance as societies struggle to create labour-saving devices in the wake of population losses. Medieval Europe had reached a demographic impasse. It was the precipitous drop in population that spurred the changes that propelled Europe into the modern era. Population controls shifted from natural checks to preventative measures, including new inheritance practices, revised marriage customs and birth control.
New evidence for the plague's role in the establishment of universities, spread of Christianity, dissemination of vernacular cultures and even the rise of nationalism demonstrates that this cataclysmic event marked a true turning point in history.