The Great Plague

The Great Plague: The Story of London’s Most Deadly Year by A. Lloyd Moote and Dorothy C. Moote

It started slow on April 12, 1665 in the one of the poorer parishes that make up the city of London. An estimated 100,000 lives were lost before the epidemic of the plague tapered off with the Great Fire that decimated London in September of 1666. 100,000 people, that is about 20% of the city’s population at the time. It was so bad that they ran out of room to bury people, even when using pits.

Medical science was still fixated with Galenic Medicine & humors, meaning that they had no clue how to fight it. The apothecaries of the time had their own ideas on what the plague was and how it was spread, but they were also hampered by their own versions of Snake Oil salesmen. The clergy busied itself with prayer. The rich, including King Charles II, fled to the country. There were few learned people left in town. And, oh yeah, England was at war with the Dutch. Can’t forget that.

Those that were left behind struggled, worried, fretted, died and just tried to keep the city from falling apart at the seams and bringing the rest of England down with it. I like to think of them as heroes.

The Moote’s look at the plague is different because it tells the story, from outbreak to the fire, using letters, diaries and other printed sources of the time. It focuses on nine individuals, letting them tell their story, and that makes it a bit more interesting than a run of the mill book on the plague. It puts a more human aspect on the epidemic and you find yourself wondering if you could have been as strong as some of these women and men that made the choice not to flee.

So many non-fiction books get their hands so dirty in history and the facts that they allow you to lose sight of the people that the actual event is happening to. Not so with this one and they even made one step further. They occasionally drew parallels between the plague and the AIDS/HIV crisis. Just as we had no idea what HIV was or how to stop the spread in the 1980’s, these people had no idea how to fight the plague.

Completely readable book because of the narrative style. If you want to learn more about the plague, London in the 1660’s, or a snippet of medical history, go for it.

The Great Plague: The Story of London’s Most Deadly Year by A. Lloyd Moote and Dorothy Moote

  • Paperback: 357 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; (August 7, 2006)
  • ISBN-10: 0801884934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801884931