When Plague Strikes: The Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS by James Cross Giblin

264821Opening Sentence:Like all epidemic diseases, the Plague of Athens struck suddenly and without warning.
Synopsis:And no bells tolled, and nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death…And people said and believed, “This is the end of the world.” – Agnolo di Tura

These words, written by an Italian in 1347, convey how people reacted to the bubonic plague – the fearsome “Black Death” that swept across Europe in the fourteenth century. But they might have been used to describe many other epidemic diseases that have ravaged humankind.

When Plague Strikes tells the stories of three of the most serious and damaging diseases: the Black Death, smallpox, and AIDS. All three have had disastrous impacts on the affected populations, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving lasting social, economic, and political consequences in their wake. Each plague increased our knowledge of the human body and led to advances in medicine. Each also set in motion the unfortunate tendency to blame and punish scapegoats when things happen that we can’t comprehend.

With candor, James Cross Giblin paints a vivid picture of the three plagues and the havoc they have wrought. With compassion, he portrays the suffering of the victims, and the efforts of those scientists, doctors, and ministers who had the courage to care and prevail.
Comments:When Plague Strikes is a great basic guide to get early teens started in the study of diseases in history. It is not as in-depth as Ziegler’s The Black Death but this is not it’s intention. This book is very easy to read and comprehend without sacrificing relevant facts and histories. The author covers his subjects in a calm, clear manner and relates facts without passing judgement. An advantage this book holds over Ziegler’s The Black Death is the understandable style of the writing (Ziegler constantly refers to statistics and uses large, scholarly language unsuitable for beginners) and the coverage of two other major epidemic diseases, namely smallpox and AIDS. I enjoyed reading this book and did not have to constantly stop and look up words the way I did with Ziegler.

Categories: Impressions

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2 replies


  1. The Great Plague: The Story of London’s Most Deadly Year by A. Lloyd Moote & Dorothy C. Moote « Rafferty's Rules
  2. Books I Read in May 2009 « Rafferty's Rules

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