How a seven-year cycle of rain, cold, disease, and warfare created the worst famine in European history.
In May 1315, it started to rain. It didn't stop anywhere in north Europe until August. Next came the four coldest winters in a millennium. Two separate animal epidemics killed nearly 80 percent of northern Europe's livestock. Wars between Scotland and England, France and Flanders, and two rival claimants to the Holy Roman Empire destroyed all remaining farmland. After seven years, the combination of lost harvests, warfare, and pestilence would claim six million lives—one eighth of Europe's total population.
William Rosen draws on a wide array of disciplines, from military history to feudal law to agricultural economics and climatology, to trace the succession of traumas that caused the Great Famine. With dramatic appearances by Scotland's William Wallace, and the luckless Edward II and his treacherous Queen Isabella, history's best documented episode of catastrophic climate change comes alive, with powerful implications for future calamities.
About the Author
William Rosen, a former editor and publisher at Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and The Free Press, is the author of Justinian's Flea and The Most Powerful Idea in the World. He lives in New Jersey.
"A kink in Europe's climate during the fourteenth century indirectly triggered a seven-year cataclysm that left six million dead, William Rosen reveals in this rich interweaving of agronomy, meteorology, economics and history.... Rosen deftly delineates the backstory and the perfect storm of heavy rains, hard winters, livestock epidemics, and war leading to the catastrophe."
"Rosen... delights in the minutiae of history, down to the most fascinating footnotes... Engrossing.... A work that glows from the author's relish for his subject."
"Rosen (The Most Powerful Idea in the World) argues persuasively that natural disasters are most catastrophic when humankind's actions give them a push. The depredations committed in battle by Englishmen and Scots were augmented by years of bad weather: the result was that people died in droves. The interactions Rosen describes have been studied but are seldom incorporated into popular history, and the author never overreaches in his conclusions, providing a well-grounded chronicle.... This book will appeal foremost to history lovers, but it should also interest anyone who enjoys a well-documented story."
"William Rosen is a good enough writer to hold interest and maintain the fraught relations between nature and politics as a running theme. He ends The Third Horseman with a stark observation: in some ways, global ecology is more precarious nowadays than it was in the 1300s."
"Rosen is a terrific storyteller and engaging stylist; his vigorous recaps of famous battles and sketches of various colorful characters will entertain readers not unduly preoccupied by thematic rigor.... Rosen's principal goal, however, is not to horrify us, but to make us think.... While vividly re-creating a bygone civilization, he invites us to look beyond our significant but ultimately superficial differences and recognize that we too live in fragile equilibrium with the natural world whose resources we recklessly exploit, and that like our medieval forebears we may well be vulnerable to 'a sudden shift in the weather.'"
--The Daily Beast
"Rosen is a natural and playful storyteller."
--The New York Times
"Rosen has a facility for the telling anecdote and the quirky aside."
"[Rosen] writes what might be called champagne prose: it slips down quick and easy but carries a punch."
--The Telegraph (UK)