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Chapter 6 of William Bernstein’s A Splendid Exchange is about the Black Death of the 14th century. It contains this passage:

Even this greatest European apocalypse is only a small part of the story. If the cultural and demographic records of the Black Death are imperfect in Europe, those for the Middle East and Far East are essentially nonexistent; there is no Arab, Indian, or Chinese Decameron.

The basic story here is that the Black Death was actually considerably worse in the Middle East than it was in Europe. In the Nile Valley, where there was no place for city dwellers to escape to (thanks to the surrounding Sahara Desert), the original plague and its aftershocks were especially devastating. Egypt never recovered.

But why are there so few non-Western accounts of the plague? 14th century Arab and Chinese culture were more advanced than European culture, after all. So why no records?

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If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

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