The World the Plague Made

Princeton Univ. Jul. 2022. 632p. ISBN 9780691215662. $39.95. HIST
Historian Belich (Replenishing the Earth) makes the bold claim in this sweeping work of revisionist history that the Black Death, often called the bubonic plague, was the catalyst for Europe’s dramatic rise to greatness. The Beit Professor of Imperial and Commonwealth History at the University of Oxford uses an approach he terms an “intensive global history.” He posits that the successive strikes or waves of the bubonic plague in 1346 and beyond were the main drivers behind technological innovation, industrial advances, and massively expanded trade networks that enriched Europe materially and culturally. For example, the ripple effects of massive depopulation had immediate impact upon survivors, as disposable income doubled and labor shortages created an increased demand for goods and services that societies rushed to meet. Based upon an exhaustive array of sources and the latest information and scientific data on the infection, Belich asks the essential question: “Why Europe?” He explores the answer within a global framework that reveals how the empires of the Middle East and Russia also reaped benefits from the plague’s terrible scythe.
VERDICT Densely detailed but rich in erudition and startling new insights, this fresh look at the impact of the Black Death upon world history is a must for history lovers and plague afficionados alike.
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