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Pandemics in Perspective: Plagues and Peoples

A compilation of my notes from the book: Plagues and Peoples, by William H. McNeill (1976); complimented by my summarizing sub-headings.

Plagues and Peoples: a historical interpretation by an epidemiologically-learned historian.*

*i.e. Pandemics in perspective—par excellence!

As quoted by the Lancet behind the front cover of this book,

Professor McNeill is an American historian with a sound grasp of epidemiological principles.

As McNeill points out himself in this book (which can be seen immediately in the notes to follow), historians systematically gloss-over the significance of epidemic disease.

In choosing to read Plagues and Peoples third in my sequence of pandemic-themed books, I identified it as the one most complimentary to Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year: for while the latter is “the prototype of all accounts of great cities in times of epidemic”, the former has to be one of, if not the most substantial attempts at a historical interpretation of epidemics (—which is quite distinct from an epidemiological interpretation of history, I would add).

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Pandemics in Perspective: Themes of Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year

A thematic breakdown of the book A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe (1722)

Detail of the Penguin Classics Edition of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

Following my notes (presented in the previous post) on the book A Journal of the Plague Year, which were quite extensive; the following is a categorization of the most significant themes I have discerned from those notes, which are quite concise.

The main categories of the themes are Societal Dynamics, Conduct of Authorities, and Psychological Effects—the first two being the most substantial and thus each being divided into subheadings.

Having completed this list of themes, I find that Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year* clearly reveals its striking relevance to 21st century occurrence of plague; and its breadth of insight – within its accessible, narrative form – testifies to its likely being the best book one can start with towards gaining a perspective on pandemics.

Continue reading “Pandemics in Perspective: Themes of Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year”