The Great Famine


The Great Famine: The horrors of the Great Famine (1315-1322), one of the severest catastrophes ever to strike northern Europe, lived on for centuries in the minds of Europeans who recalled tales of widespread hunger, class warfare, epidemic disease, frighteningly high mortality, and unspeakable crimes. Until now, no one has offered a perspective of what daily life was actually like throughout the entire region devastated by this crisis, nor has anyone probed far into its causes. Here, the distinguished historian William Jordan provides the first comprehensive inquiry into the Famine from Ireland to western Poland, from Scandinavia to central France and western Germany. He produces a rich cultural history of medieval community life, drawing his evidence from such sources as meteorological and agricultural records, accounts kept by monasteries providing for the needy, and documentation of military campaigns. Whereas there has been a tendency to describe the food shortages as a result of simply bad weather or else poor economic planning, Jordan sets the stage so that we see the complex interplay of social and environmental factors that caused this particular disaster and allowed it to continue for so long.

Editorial Review

In “The Great Famine,” William Chester Jordan offers a compelling exploration of one of the most tumultuous periods in medieval Europe. With meticulous research and a keen historical insight, Jordan unravels the complexities of the 14th-century crisis, examining the causes and consequences of a famine that reshaped societies. Through his narrative, readers are transported to an era marked by agricultural failure, economic collapse, and profound social upheaval.

Jordan’s narrative skillfully weaves together the threads of scarcity and resilience, providing a nuanced understanding of how communities coped with the devastating effects of food shortage. The author not only delves into the economic impact of the famine but also sheds light on the human stories that unfolded during this period. By offering a detailed historical perspective, Jordan allows readers to grasp the magnitude of the famine’s consequences and its lasting imprint on the demographic landscape of medieval Europe.

“The Great Famine” stands out for its ability to make historical scholarship accessible and engaging. Jordan’s writing is both informative and evocative, capturing the imagination of readers as he navigates through the challenges faced by individuals and societies. This book serves as an invaluable resource for those interested in medieval history, offering a rich tapestry of events and insights that contribute to a deeper understanding of the past.

Other Editorial Reviews

“Winner of the 2000 Haskins Medal, Medieval Academy of America”

“One of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 1996”

“In this important new synthesis of the causes, course, and consequences of the Great Famine, Jordan offers a corrective to the view that after its initial crippling effects, famine continued to afflict Europe until the ultimate devastation of the Black Death… a richly detailed cultural history that considers significant regional variations and stresses the event’s human dimension, including its manifold and different effects in rural and urban contexts and on people of differing age, status, and power… This will become the standard work on the subject.” ― Choice

“Ever since the publication of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, many readers have suspected that the 14th century is uncannily similar to ours. Anyone who takes up this book hoping to find a new Tuchman will find something better, though it is a work of great depth written in a scholarly and engaging way. The impressive scholarship . . . deserves to be appreciated for its own merits. Among the many virtues of this readable work are the corrections of many common misperceptions of the Middle Ages and a bibliography that is extensive and impressive. . . .” ― Publishers Weekly

“A richly detailed cultural history… This will become the standard work on the subject.” ― Choice

“Anyone who takes up this book in hopes of finding a new Tuchman will find something better, though a work of great depth written in a scholarly yet engaging way.” ― Publishers Weekly

The Great Famine by William Chester Jordan
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adult
Start Rating: 4.4 stars
Publication Date: December 15, 1997

Author: William Chester Jordan

William Chester Jordan

William Chester Jordan

William Chester Jordan is a distinguished historian and author celebrated for his profound contributions to medieval studies. Born on June 8, 1948, Jordan earned his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University before completing his Ph.D. at Princeton University in 1977. His academic journey reflects a lifelong commitment to understanding and unraveling the complexities of medieval Europe.

Currently, William Chester Jordan is the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University, where he has been a prominent figure in the Department of History for several decades. His scholarly pursuits have earned him acclaim, particularly for his expertise in the social, economic, and cultural history of the Middle Ages.

Jordan’s body of work is extensive, with a focus on the 12th to 15th centuries. Notable among his publications is “The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century,” a seminal work that delves into the profound impact of the 14th-century famine on European societies. Beyond his research, Jordan is recognized for his engaging writing style, which brings historical narratives to life for both academic and general audiences.

Throughout his career, William Chester Jordan has received numerous accolades and honors for his scholarly achievements, solidifying his reputation as a leading authority in medieval history. His dedication to exploring the intricacies of the past continues to enrich our understanding of the medieval world, making him a respected figure in the field of historical scholarship.


  • William Chester Jordan. (2021). Department of History.

  • The Great Famine. (2023).; Princeton University Press.

License & Copyright

The copyright holder has published this content under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. When republishing on the web a hyperlink back to the original content source URL must be included. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms.

If I have mistakenly misused any of your content, artwork, images, or videos, please contact me on and I will take the necessary corrective action.

This website uses affiliate links. If you purchase via these links, we might earn a commission that contributes to sustaining the platform.

    Home » Book Review » The Great Famine
    Help Preserve Medieval History!
    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
    Verified by MonsterInsights