DOOMSDAY BOOK BY CONNIE WILLIS

I read this for the first time when it was first published in 2008. It wasn’t available as an audible book yet, though it would be soon. So my first reading was words on paper.

It’s the story of the plague, the Bubonic Plague in England. In addition to the many light-hearted stores Ms. Willis has written, she has written a four book series about Time Travel and this was the first of the series. She’s not very technical. Her idea of time travel is to take a modern person and move them in time back to a part of history when something unusual was happening and then watch this “modern” human interact with the real inhabitants of that period.

This is either the best or worst time in history to read about Bubonic Plague. On one level, it makes COVID-19 sound like a walk in the park. Bubonic Plague is a powerful disease, borne of a bacteria rather than a virus. Which means you can’t create a vaccine against it and in all these years while Plague has been coming and going around the world, there is no vaccine. These days, it usually can be beaten back with heavy doses of antibiotics, but not always. It still kills people and it pops up all over the world, including in the United States.

In 1348 when the plague hit England and killed at least half the entire population and in some areas, killed everybody leaving towns deserted, everyone knew what we know:


WEAR A MASK. DON’T GET CLOSE TO OTHER PEOPLE.
AVOID “THE HOT SPOTS.” 


The wealthy who had homes far out in the country went there and locked the gates. Those who had no recourse — peasants and merchants — did the best they could. Everyone wore masks until people started to get crazy and say “I’m going to die anyway, so I might as well have fun in the meantime.”

Just like now.

Basically, the Black Death rampaged through England, Europe, and Asia for a few hundred years The 14th century was the biggest hit, but not the only hit. It lurked, so when a new generation was growing up, it struck again. Which is why you see remnants of the plague hitting in the Gobi Desert in prehistoric times, the Justinian Plague in Roman times, then the big one that came in with infected rats to Italian ports and ultimately, everywhere in Europe and England..

This book deals exclusively with 1348 to 1349, the years that the Plague arrived and did its best to kill everyone. It did a pretty good job. No one really knows what proportion of the human population was killed during the plague years, but it was no less than 50% and might have been as high as 75% — and in some areas, as I said, It involved the complete elimination of the entire human population and entire towns and regions. Areas that are regarded as having not been hit by plague were indeed hit, but they only lost 15 to 20% of the population — not enough deaths to even put them on the map.

Ponder that.

Today, we have a problem with freight and moving goods in the world as the Pandemic wreaks havoc. They didn’t have freight or shipping. They barely had roads. Instead, they lost so many peasants there was no one left to grow crops. So in addition to dying of plague, many died of starvation.

I found it more relaxing to read than watching the numbers of new COVID cases on the news every night. This is history. It happened. It’s over. COVID is right now. We are not free from it and we do not know when or if we will be free of it. Although it isn’t as fast a killer as Bubonic Plague, it’s still killing a lot of people and beginning to take a toll on younger people who were supposedly “immune” to it.

Even though, way back in 1348, everyone knew there was no immunity unless you just got lucky, they were as stupid about caring for themselves and each other as we are today. Supposedly they were so much less knowledgeable … but in the end, the answer was exactly the same then as now.


Social distancing and masks.


People were stupid in 1348. They are equally stupid in 2020. Times change. People don’t.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all plus a big helping of cynicism.

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