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  • Published: 27 May 2015
  • ISBN: 9780143127147
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $49.99
Categories:

The Third Horseman

A Story of Weather, War, and the Famine History Forgot



In May of 1315, it started to rain. It didn't stop until August, anywhere in Europe north of the Pyrenees and west of the Urals; the farmlands of Britain, France, the Baltic and German principalities, Poland, Sweden, and Lithuania were almost completely flooded out. In what is now Belgium, a contemporary observer recorded that it rained for 155 days in a row. For millions of people whose homes and occupations did little to shield them from weather, the rains were bad enough, marking the end of the gentlest climate in 8,000 years. Those deluges were succeeded by some of the coldest winters in European history...cold enough that the Baltic port cities and the rivers feeding them didn't just freeze over, but were iced in for six months, and topsoils turned as hard as concrete. In 1319, a zoonosis--an animal epidemic--appeared, killing up to 80% of northern Europe's cattle, sheep, goats, and oxen. Two years later, another epidemic did the same to the continent's horses. By 1322, one in eight northern Europeans--some six million men, women, and children--had starved to death. But even as famine was reaching every nation on the northern continent, war broke out between England and Scotland, between France and Flanders, and between two rival claimants to the Holy Roman Empire. These conflicts joined with lost harvests, iced-in ports and flooded roads, to turn hunger into starvation.

In the end, it was a succession of traumas, rather than any one of them, that was responsible for the Great Famine. Introductory physics students study the phenomenon known as resonance: The tendency of a system, like a pendulum, to oscillate in larger and larger swings when pushed. The Third Horseman is the story of how a seven-year long cycle of resonant forces--rain, cold, disease, and warfare--destroyed the population of northern Europe. William Rosen will show how long-gestating and impersonal forces conspired with human duplicities and ambitions to create one of the greatest disasters in recorded history. Like his previous books, it draws upon a wide variety of disciplines: diplomatic and military history, agronomy--agricultural economics, soil science, and plant biology--meteorology and climatology; and even digestive physiology, nutritional science and gastronomic history.

Although The Third Horseman is a story about a particular set of characters in a particular set of circumstances, it is not a polemic about global warming, nor a cautionary tale about the fragility of modern agribusiness. But it will tell the story of the Great Famine in a way that incorporates the most current scientific theories and economic models, allowing readers (and reviewers) to connect the dots from the fourteenth to the twenty-first century.

The incredible true story of how a cycle of rain, cold, disease, and warfare created the worst famine in European history—years before the Black Death, from the author of Justinian's Flea and the forthcoming Miracle Cure

In May 1315, it started to rain. For the seven disastrous years that followed, Europeans would be visited by a series of curses unseen since the third book of Exodus: floods, ice, failures of crops and cattle, and epidemics not just of disease, but of pike, sword, and spear. All told, six million lives—one-eighth of Europe’s total population—would be lost.

With a category-defying knowledge of science and history, William Rosen tells the stunning story of the oft-overlooked Great Famine with wit and drama and demonstrates what it all means for today’s discussions of climate change.

  • Published: 27 May 2015
  • ISBN: 9780143127147
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $49.99
Categories:

About the author

William Rosen

William Rosen was a senior executive at Macmillan and Simon & Schuster publishing houses for more than twenty-five years, working with authors including Bernard Lewis, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Philip Craig and Tim Clayton, Marina Benjamin, and Robert Lacey. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Praise for The Third Horseman

Praise for The Third Horseman

"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."
--Nature

"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."
--Kirkus

"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."
--Library Journal

"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."
--Milwaukee Express

"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

Praise for William Rosen

"Rosen is a natural and playful storyteller."
--The New York Times

"Rosen has a facility for the telling anecdote and the quirky aside."
--Bill Gates

"[Rosen] writes what might be called champagne prose: it slips down quick and easy but carries a punch."
--The Telegraph (UK)