Wednesday, September 14, 2005

John Kelly on the Black death

Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews John Kelly , author of The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time for NRO.
I read a number of excellent academic histories, but it was the original source material, the literature of the Great Mortality — the chronicles, letters, and reminiscences written by contemporaries — that turned my gaze from the future to the past. The plague generation wrote about their experiences with a directness and urgency that, 700 years after the fact, retains the power to astonish, and haunt.
The effect of the plague:
The best estimate for Europe is a death rate of a third, with some regions — for example, eastern England and Tuscany — suffering death rates in the 50-percent range. Also the estimate for the Middle East — Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc. — is one third. There are no estimates for China, which the plague struck a few years after it hit Europe, but the census of 1200 A.D. counted roughly 125 million Chinese; by the census of 1390 — a few decades after the plague had struck — the population of China had fallen to 63 million...

According to one recent estimate, extrapolated to today’s world population, the death rate for a disaster on the scale of the Black Death would be 1.9 billion lives.
That puts other things in perspective. The whole interview is worth reading.


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