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Books, Journals, New Media
February 25, 1998

Black DeathThe Black Death and the Transformation of the West

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 1998;279(8):631-632. doi:10.1001/jama.279.8.631-JBK0225-3-1

Like Colin Platt in his recent work on the effects of the Black Death in England,1,2 the late David Herlihy has emphasized the virulence of the epidemic and, on a European scale, demonstrated the social and economic changes that it brought, following its initial outbreak in 1348. In this book, based on lectures delivered at the University of Maine in 1985, Professor Herlihy describes the plague as an exogenous agent that broke a Malthusian deadlock and gave Europeans the opportunity to reconstruct their society in an entirely different fashion. The decrease in the population caused grain fields to become pastures or forests; abandoned grist mills could be converted into hydraulic devices for manufacturing cloth, iron, or lumber; and in the cities, the substitution of capital for labor meant better tools and machines enabling the artisan to work more efficiently. Larger ships sailed the seas, and, by the second half of the 15th century, Gutenberg had invented the printing press as a less expensive way of duplicating manuscripts.

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