The best books about the Black Death

6 authors have picked their favorite books about the Black Death and why they recommend each book.

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Between Two Fires

By Christopher Buehlman,

Book cover of Between Two Fires

My God, this book. This book. It was so unsettling, so eerie, and yet so lyrically deft that I often found my jaw open in wonder. A mediaeval horror set in France during the Black Death, it tells of a young girl who believes she has seen the Angels of God. I picked it up expecting to drag my way through it and instead found it so absorbing and hallucinatory that I couldn’t read it fast enough. Worth noting also that it manages to be both apocalyptic and very funny which is quite a feat! 

Between Two Fires

By Christopher Buehlman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Between Two Fires as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

His extraordinary debut, Those Across the River, was hailed as “genre-bending Southern horror” (California Literary Review), “graceful [and] horrific” (Patricia Briggs). Now Christopher Buehlman invites readers into an even darker age—one of temptation and corruption, of war in heaven, and of hell on earth… And Lucifer said: “Let us rise against Him now in all our numbers, and pull the walls of heaven down…” The year is 1348. Thomas, a disgraced knight, has found a young girl alone in a dead Norman village. An orphan of the Black Death, and an almost unnerving picture of innocence, she tells Thomas that…


Who am I?

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a ghostbuster. I was the kid with the stack of ghost books and horror film obsession, sparked full of adrenaline and excitement. I knew about ouija boards and poltergeists before I knew my times tables and even now - older, more cynical, less drawn to graveyards - I still feel that same thrill when I am holding a horror novel in my hands. I write about discomfort, about fear. I’m well-acquainted with it. I like the feeling of being unnerved and want to evoke that in the stories I tell and the ones I read, like the books below. Hope you enjoy! 


I wrote...

The Silence

By Daisy Pearce,

Book cover of The Silence

What is my book about?

Stella Wiseman was a child TV star, but there’s nothing glamorous about her life now. Alone in her thirties, she’s lost her parents and her friends and she’s stuck in a dead-end job. But just as she hits rock bottom she meets Marco, a charismatic older man who offers to get her back on her feet. He seems too good to be true.

She appreciates the money he lavishes on her. And the pills. But are the pills just helping her sleep, or helping her avoid her problems? With Stella’s life still in freefall, Marco whisks her away to a secluded cottage where she is isolated from everyone except him. No longer sure what’s real and what’s not, Stella begins to question whether she was wrong to trust Marco.

Company of Liars

By Karen Maitland,

Book cover of Company of Liars: A Novel

As well as horror and the supernatural, I love historical fiction; partly why this book appealed to me. Karen Maitland obviously knows her history, making the background darkly believable.

The story has a bleak setting: Mid-1300s, England. Sustained severe weather leads to widespread starvation and poverty. A mean-spirited man who owns a horse and cart finds himself travelling with a group of misfits, including a distinctly odd, very creepy, little girl. 

All the characters have intriguing secrets in their pasts. I really enjoyed finding out about them, who they really are, what they are running away from. They are all trying to outrun the Plague, which is never far behind for the whole story, almost like a living entity itself.

I still think about this book from time to time, especially the ending, but no spoilers here.

Company of Liars

By Karen Maitland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Company of Liars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this extraordinary novel, Karen Maitland delivers a dazzling reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—an ingenious alchemy of history, mystery, and powerful human drama.

The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them.

Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group’s leader, to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller . . . from the strange, silent child called Narigorm to a painter and…


Who am I?

I grew up in South Wales, where ghost stories are cherished. As a child, I spent many a winter evening telling spooky tales with my mum and my sisters, sitting before the fire. We would record them on tape (I am that old) complete with homemade sound effects, then play them back to listen to. I loved the combined fear and excitement these stories instilled in me. My father also loved to read horror and scary fiction, which had some influence on what I chose to read as I grew older. For someone who always loved to write, I think publishing in this genre is simply a natural extension of all that.


I wrote...

Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales

By S.P. Oldham,

Book cover of Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales

What is my book about?

Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales is an extremely unusual, compelling, and refreshingly different read in the ghost/horror genre. Within its pages you will encounter the horror of a depraved mind, an ancient evil lurking underground, an elemental entity that will chill you to the bone, and more. This book will leave you thinking of it long after you have turned the last page.

The Time Of The Dark

By Barbara Hambly,

Book cover of The Time Of The Dark

This is the first book of the three-book Darwath Series. A powerful wizard, in an attempt to save his world, winds up pulling a couple of people over from Earth. The relationships and the struggles, along with the wry humor, make this book great. All of Hambly’s fantasy books that I’ve read have worlds where magic does not come easy, and I always appreciate the price that magic users have to pay. This series of hers has a frighteningly good tale—that ending!

The Time Of The Dark

By Barbara Hambly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Time Of The Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A whirlwind fantasy classic set in the richest world imaginable, with unforgettable characters and the highest stakes - The Time of the Dark is the first book in Barbara Hambly's epic Darwath Trilogy.

Gil Patterson is a woman familiar with dark stories.

As a student of medieval history, she knows the Crusades, the Black Death, and the horrors of life in the Middle Ages. But it is another kind of darkness has begun to stalk her dreams: when she falls asleep she sees forces of evil assaulting a beleaguered kingdom, whose kind people are on the brink of annihilation, and…


Who am I?

Fantasy takes me to a place where I can get out of my own skin, explore new worlds, and live adventures. The stories that pulled folks from our world (for those of you as loosely tethered as I am, I refer to Earth) provided more connection to the idea that I could be in those fantasy worlds and involved in those stories. That’s the bonus level of escapism! I didn’t realize just how many of my favorite stories fell into that category until I wrote this. Those books were definitely instrumental in my writing, though I didn’t follow any of those specific formulas. I’ll have to write another grouping for the other major category of books that influenced my writing.


I wrote...

The Guardian of the Palace: Book 1 of The Guardian League

By Steven J. Morris,

Book cover of The Guardian of the Palace: Book 1 of The Guardian League

What is my book about?

Everyone knows magic isn’t real. Alien invaders? Ha! But something destroyed an entire skyscraper in a never-before-seen implosion. Can one skeptical security guard stand between monsters and magic that threaten the world?

The Guardian of The Palace is the action-packed first book in The Guardian League fantasy series. If you like magic intruding on reality, exploring new worlds, and a good chuckle, then you'll love Steven J. Morris's inventive tale. Buy The Guardian of The Palace for a monstrous serving of adventure today!

World Without End

By Ken Follett,

Book cover of World Without End

There is so much going on in this book in terms of plot, drama, and relationships, but why I especially love it is because Caris, one of the protagonists, breaks the mold of the typical powerless medieval woman. When the Black Plague comes to Kingsbridge, Caris is the only one who uses observation and common sense to realize that the disease spreads by contact. In a world that revolves around religion and superstition, this doesn’t go over well. Though forced to sacrifice the love of her life, and put on trial as a witch, Caris sticks to her guns and enacts the medical policies she knows will save lives. Eventually, she gains the townspeople’s trust, ultimately ascending into a position of power within the town. Get it, girl!

World Without End

By Ken Follett,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked World Without End as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the day after Halloween, in the year 1327, four children slip away from the cathedral city of Kingsbridge. They are a thief, a bully, a boy genius and a girl who wants to be a doctor. In the forest they see two men killed. As adults, their lives will be braided together by ambition, love, greed and revenge. They will see prosperity and famine, plague and war. One boy will travel the world but come home in the end; the other will be a powerful, corrupt nobleman. One girl will defy the might of the medieval church; the other…


Who am I?

I am a strong, independent woman (*snaps fingers through the air*), yet I adore a soul-sucking romance. Many might think this is a contradiction, but it’s not! A woman can be both loving and stubborn…both enamored by her partner yet still strong enough to speak up for herself. Sadly, I think historical fiction often defaults to portraying dependent and subjugated women, and this isn’t necessarily wrong—in fact, it’s probably more accurate. However, when I’m getting lost in the magic of a novel, I want to experience the all-consuming love without sacrificing the resiliency and independence of the women involved, and these books spin stories where both outcomes are possible!


I wrote...

All the Gold in Abbotsford

By E.L. Daniel,

Book cover of All the Gold in Abbotsford

What is my book about?

Elena Redewolde has lost everything—her family, castle, title, and dignity—and King Edward II’s corrupt court is to blame. All that remains is her freedom, but even that’s taken away when she’s forced to wed the local mercenary captain, Stephen Warde. Though Stephen promises to restore her lands and salvage her family’s reputation, he refuses to tell her how. The months pass by while her circumstances remain the same, but then strange events start unfolding around their town, and she begins to wonder whether she might twist the situation to her advantage. Tax raises, falsely forged gold, whispers of a foreign invasion? If Elena can uncover this fraud and corruption surrounding her, maybe it’ll help her reclaim her destiny and win back her home…

Book cover of Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland 1066–1485

This is a fantastic introduction to what was going on in the British Isles during the medieval period. The scholarship is up-to-the-minute, the writing is witty and engaging, and it is teeming with original ideas. It’s not a political history, plodding predictably from one reign to the next, but a sweeping overview, covering diverse topics such as the decline of slavery, the rise of parliament, kingship and queenship, religion, education, leisure, crime, and chivalry.

Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery

By John Gillingham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beginning with the Norman Conquest of England, these tumultuous centuries and their invasions shaped the languages and political geography of present-day Britain and Ireland.

The Irish, Scots and Welsh fought their battles against the English with varying success - struggles which, like the events of 1066 in England, produced spectacular upheavals and left enduring national memories. But there was still a common enemy: the Black Death - still the greatest catastrophe in their history.

There were significant advances, too. Hundreds of new towns were founded; slavery, still prevalent until the twelfth century, died out; magnificent cathedrals built, schools and universities…


Who am I?

I fell into medieval history from the moment I arrived at university, when I looked at a lecture list that included the Norman Conquest, King John and Magna Carta, Edward I – in short, the subjects of the books I have gone on to write. The attraction for me was that the medieval centuries were formative ones, shaping the countries of the British Isles and the identities of the people within them. After completing my doctorate on the thirteenth-century earls of Norfolk I was keen to broaden my horizons, and presented a TV series about castles, which was a great way to reconnect with the reality of the medieval past.


I wrote...

The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England

By Marc Morris,

Book cover of The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England

What is my book about?

The Anglo-Saxons traces the turbulent history of England in its formative centuries. It explains how its earliest rulers fought relentlessly against each other for glory and supremacy, and then were almost destroyed by the onslaught of the Vikings. It explores how they abandoned their old gods for Christianity, established hundreds of churches, and created dazzlingly intricate works of art. It charts the revival of towns and trade, and the origins of a familiar landscape of shires, boroughs, and bishoprics. It is a tale of famous figures like King Offa, Alfred the Great, and Edward the Confessor, but also features a host of lesser-known characters - ambitious queens, revolutionary saints, intolerant monks, and grasping nobles. Through their remarkable careers, we see how a new society, a new culture, and a single unified nation came into being.

York

By Sarah Rees Jones,

Book cover of York: The Making of a City 1068-1350

This is a masterful work covering the period from the Norman conquest to the Black Death. Sarah Rees Jones is one of my go-to scholars for medieval York, as well as an engaging writer. I particularly appreciate her looking beyond the importance of the royal government in the city’s development to include the strong influence of the Minster and other ecclesiastical institutions in the city as well as the significance of the people of York—merchants and craftspeople.

Check here first if you want a feel for how the city grew, who were the makers and shakers, how the neighborhoods developed, where the influential people lived. Every time I dip into this book I learn something new. With 18 useful maps and an extensive bibliography.

York

By Sarah Rees Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

York was one of the most important cities in medieval England. This original study traces the development of the city from the Norman Conquest to the Black Death. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries are a neglected period in the history of English towns, and this study argues that the period was absolutely fundamental to the development of urban society and that up to now we have misunderstood the reasons for the development of York and its significance within our
history because of that neglect.

Medieval York argues that the first Norman kings attempted to turn the city into a true…


Who am I?

I have been writing the Owen Archer mysteries, set in and around the city of York in the late 14th century, for 30 years, ever since falling in love with the city of York on a visit. As I studied medieval literature and culture in graduate school, with a special interest in Chaucer, I’ve focused my research on the period in which he lived. I’ve spent months walking the streets of the city, hiking through the countryside, and meeting with local historians. Besides the 13 Owen Archer mysteries I’ve also published 3 Kate Clifford mysteries covering Richard II’s downfall, both series grounded in the politics and culture of medieval York and Yorkshire. 


I wrote...

The Riverwoman's Dragon

By Candace Robb,

Book cover of The Riverwoman's Dragon

What is my book about?

May, 1375. Owen Archer returns from London to find York in chaos. While the citizens are living in terror of the pestilence, a newly arrived physician is whipping up fear and suspicion against traditional healers and midwives. Aided by parish priests, he is especially hostile towards Magda Digby, who has helped and healed the people of York for many years. For her part, Magda is uneasy about the arrival of two long-lost kinsfolk, between whom she senses a hidden agenda. Her troubles multiply when she discovers a body in the river near her home and falls under suspicion of murder.

Days later, fire rips through a warehouse in the city. Amongst the charred debris lies the body of a man – not burned, but stabbed in the back. Is there a connection to the corpse in the river? Determined to prove Magda’s innocence, Owen investigates amidst violent outbursts within and without the city walls– but the more he uncovers, the deeper the mystery becomes… 

In the Wake of the Plague

By Norman F. Cantor,

Book cover of In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made

Cantor’s book showed me that when a lethal pandemic arrives, it can change society in ways that make “returning to normal” impossible, because the conditions that made “normal” possible no longer exist. The Black Death - probably a bubonic plague pandemic - wiped out as much as half of China’s population, before traveling the silk road to Europe where, from 1347-1351, a third of the population died. The pandemic also suffocated the feudal order, created the conditions for capitalism, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, breathed new life into art, and transformed the legal system. In effect, the pandemic plowed the seedbed for the modern Western world. Covid may be a similar epidemiological juggernaut, sweeping away human institutions that we know, leaving us a novel world that will be strange and different in ways we can’t yet imagine.

In the Wake of the Plague

By Norman F. Cantor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Wake of the Plague as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller, In the Wake of the Plague is a fascinating study of the cultural and religious consequences of one of the deadliest tragedies to befall humanity: the black plague. Though rigorously scientific in his approach, Norman F. Cantor has produced an unforgettable narrative that in many ways employs the novelist’s skill for storytelling.

The Black Death was the fourteenth century’s equivalent of a nuclear war. It wiped out one-third of Europe’s population, and irrevocably changed the lives of those who survived. And yet, most of what we know about it is wrong. The details of the…


Who am I?

We're all in this together: public health for all people, no matter their status or wealth, is one of humanity's great achievements. Favoring reason over faith, science over anecdote, and the group over the individual, has led to lowered infant mortality, improved health, and longer human lifespans. During pandemics, however, evidence and reason are often discarded, as people panic and try to save themselves. The odd human behavior we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic has multiple precedents in the past. Quack cures, snake-oil sales, conspiracy theories, suspicion of authority, the emergence of cults with eccentric, bizarre, and inexplicable beliefs: again and again, this has been the human response to the unknown.


I wrote...

Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History

By Bryn Barnard,

Book cover of Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History

What is my book about?

Did the Black Death destroy the feudal system? Did cholera pave the way for modern Manhattan? Did yellow fever help end the slave trade? Remarkably, the answer to all of these questions is yes. Time and again, diseases have impacted the course of human history in surprisingly powerful ways. From influenza to smallpox, from tuberculosis to yellow fever, Bryn Barnard describes the symptoms and paths of the world’s worst diseases–and how the epidemics they spawned have changed history forever.

Highlighted with vivid and meticulously researched illustrations, Outbreak is a fascinating look at the hidden world of microbes–and how this world shapes human destiny every day.

Until Proven Safe

By Geoff Manaugh, Nicola Twilley,

Book cover of Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine

I found this a fascinating account of the origins and history of quarantine, stretching from medieval times right up to the Covid-19 pandemic, the authors take us on a tour of the many different forms that quarantine has taken in different parts of the world. Quarantine is about finding out what may be hidden within the body but this book reveals much about the different cultural and historical settings where quarantine has been employed. The book helped me understand why the responses to Covid-19 were so diverse in spite of the fact that governments were dealing with the same illness.

Until Proven Safe

By Geoff Manaugh, Nicola Twilley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Until Proven Safe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Manaugh and Twilley shed illuminating light on a phenomenon that seems utterly of the present moment.' Financial Times' Best Books of the Year

'Startlingly timely, authoritatively researched, and electrifyingly written.' Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

Quarantine has shaped our world, yet it remains both feared and misunderstood. It is our most powerful response to uncertainty, but it operates through an assumption of guilt: in quarantine, we are considered infectious until proven safe. An unusually poetic metaphor for moral and mythic ills, quarantine means waiting to see if something hidden inside of…


Who am I?

I founded Critical Metaphor Analysis, an approach that has become well known in English language studies. My books Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis, Politicians and Rhetoric: The persuasive power of metaphor, and Analysing Political Speeches have over 5,000 citations. I am also ranked first on Google Scholar on political rhetoric. I have always tried (though not always successfully) to write in an accessible style to reach out to audiences beyond academia. As well as lecturing, I assist in the training of Westminster speechwriters. I love languages and speak French, Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, and Malay with varying degrees of incompetence; I have rediscovered the pleasure of watercolour painting.


I wrote...

Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

By Jonathan Charteris-Black,

Book cover of Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

What is my book about?

This book explores the metaphors used by the media and by politicians during the Covid-19 era to understand how language shapes our moral reasoning and the role of language in policy formation and communication during a period of crisis. It analyses metaphors, metonyms, allegories, and symbols to gain insight into the moral basis for the decisions that people made during the pandemic. It draws on cognitive linguistics, history, social psychology, and literature for a multi-layered interpretation of the language of the pandemic and its social and political consequences. 

The Great Mortality

By John Kelly,

Book cover of The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time

The Great Mortality was a key tool in my research for my book. John covered the Black Death in every country it devastated, such as England, Italy, and France. He touches on the effect the Black Death had on the church and the great lengths that were taken to protect the pope. He goes into morbid detail about the plague, and you get a real understanding of what these people went through. I can not recommend this book enough. 

The Great Mortality

By John Kelly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Mortality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Powerful, rich with details, moving, humane, and full of important lessons for an age when weapons of mass destruction are loose among us.” — Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb 

The Great Plague is one of the most compelling events in human history—even more so now, when the notion of plague has never loomed larger as a contemporary public concern.

The plague that devastated Asia and Europe in the 14th century has been of never-ending interest to both scholarly and general readers. Many books on the plague rely on statistics to tell the story:…


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the history of medicine, particularly the more macabre details. While researching my family lineage, I became especially interested in medieval medicine and the lives of English monarchs. I was honored to be asked to write a book on medicine in the middle ages, and I dove into the research head first. I have been lucky enough to write for several other publications, and I have self-published on Amazon. I enjoy writing historical fiction and my novel, Sleeping with the Impaler, was a book I truly enjoyed writing. I hope the books I recommended spark your interest as they will stay with me forever.


I wrote...

Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times

By Juliana Cummings,

Book cover of Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times

What is my book about?

Medicine in the Middle Ages is a fascinating walk through time to the beginnings of European medicine. Learn how the four humors were the concept that medicine revolved around and why bloodletting and purging were common treatments. Get firsthand accounts of the gruesome ordeal of childbirth and the devastation the Black Death had on the world’s population.

Medicine in the Middle Ages is not only a book rich with details of the practice of medicine, but it is a history book that comes alive.

The Rats

By James Herbert,

Book cover of The Rats

The Rats is not only my No. 1 all-time favourite horror novel, but it is also the novel that inspired me to become a horror writer myself. James Herbert’s debut novel is just an absolute horror masterpiece, telling the terrifying story of a plague of giant mutant rats that terrorise London. Their attacks are swift, deadly, and extremely bloody. No one is safe as the hordes of flesh-eating creatures swarm through houses, cinemas, schools, and other public places. I enjoyed the novel that much that I read it in one day, as I was absolutely gripped by all the gruesome set pieces that Herbert always does so well. So if you enjoy a real good animals-on-the-rampage novel, The Rats is the one I would definitely recommend.

The Rats

By James Herbert,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Rats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A special fortieth anniversary edition of The Rats, the classic, bestselling horror novel that launched James Herbert's career.

With a foreword by Neil Gaiman, author of Norse Mythology.

It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realized by a panic-stricken city. For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time - suddenly, shockingly, horribly - the balance of power had shifted .…


Who am I?

The reason why I love horror fiction so much, and the reason why I decided to become a horror writer myself, is that horror is my No.1 genre. Ever since I saw Boris Karloff portraying, so brilliantly, the monster in Universal’s Frankenstein when I was a kid, I became a lifelong horror fan. I love both reading and writing horror fiction. I also enjoy collecting horror films, and review them regularly on my YouTube channel. I have studied the world of horror all my life, and think I have accrued a fairly broad knowledge on the subject. I have published my horror fiction books and my true paranormal books.


I wrote...

Werewolf Nightmare

By Alan Toner,

Book cover of Werewolf Nightmare

What is my book about?

Werewolf Nightmare is a horror portmanteau novella, featuring four werewolf tales, with a framing story about a horror magazine editor who visits the secluded country home of an elderly writer to read four werewolf stories the resident has written, with a view to publication in the magazine. But as the night unfolds, it soon becomes horrifyingly apparent that perhaps there is more truth than fiction in the lycanthropic tales that the elderly gentleman has written...

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