1666: Plague, War and Hellfire

Written by Rebecca Rideal
Review by Jeanne Greene

Rideal, editor of “The History Vault,” calls 1666 the most devastating year in English history. The restored monarchy was at war with the Dutch and French, thousands had died of bubonic plague, and religious dissent was growing. Daily lives were bleak and uncertain. Then fire broke out in London. It was impossible to control, building to an inferno that destroyed most of the city in four days. Afterwards, many thought tragedy was God’s punishment for sin.

The 17th century was literate. Science flourished alongside superstition. Written accounts by contemporaries—people in the streets and geniuses behind the scenes—comprise much of 1666, making it a must-read. Pepys awakened at 3:00am, saw fire several streets away, and went back to bed. Isaac Newton, exiled from London by the fire, continued his work at a farm with an apple tree. It is this human element that makes 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire convincing and hard to put down.  Highly recommended for anyone interested in 17th-century European history or the history of science.