09/18/22

Reading Public Domain Ebooks

I recently finished reading A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe’s account of the 1665 Bubonic Plague epidemic in London. Only took me two and a half years of living through a pandemic myself to read one of the most famous historical accounts of a plague. The book itself apparently sits somewhere between fiction and non-fiction, and was full of detailed retellings of the trials and tribulations of English people living through a Public Health crisis. While this book was written some 300 years ago (it was first published in 1722), it reads as a remarkably recognizable narrative for those of us continuing to live through the COVID-19 pandemic. There are stories of people fleeing the city, their run-ins with locals in the small towns dotting the countryside, the ongoing work of keeping those who stayed in London fed and employed, tales of sickness, quacks and scam treatments, people celebrating the end of the plague before it was over, and much more. Despite the writing style this book felt remarkably relevant to me and I recommend it to anyone interested in considering our modern moment, its relationship to similar eras in the past, and how people cope with large scale crises of sickenss.

I also wanted to be sure to mention Standard Ebooks, a great site I’ve been using to access public domain books. In addition to A Journal of the Plague Year, I am also making my way through Moby Dick and have a number of other works in my e-reader queue. The quality and attention to detail of these files is top notch and I really appreciate the dedication of this project to providing professional level files though and open source model. Promoting access to free culture, public domain materials, and classic literature is always a good decision!