The 9 Worst Years in History to be Alive


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It’s funny how a truly sucky year can make you realize how much we take for granted. 2020 really took the cake as the toughest year many of us have ever seen. It threw everything at us: deadly widespread disease, lockdowns, fear, uncertainty, financial meltdowns, social upheaval. To put it mildly, it was a real jerk of a year. And yet, historians remind us that we, as humanity, have faced even tougher times — way beyond the challenges of working from home and perfecting our sourdough skills. Here are the nine worst years to be alive in human history.

Image Credit: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

1. A.D. 536 – Volcanic Winter

Dubbed “the worst year to be alive” by Harvard historian Michael McCormick, the year 536 saw an inexplicable, dense fog that shrouded much of Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia in darkness for 18 months after a massive volcanic eruption, likely originating from Iceland. Historical accounts describe the sun giving no more light than the moon and summer temperatures dropping to 34°F.  Crops failed, leading to widespread famine and starvation, while societies grappled with the sudden onset of scarcity and hardship. The Byzantine historian Procopius wrote, “men were free neither from war nor pestilence nor any other thing leading to death.”

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2. 1348 – Black Death

The Black Death, one of history’s deadliest pandemics, ravaged Europe from 1347 to 1351. Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and primarily spread by fleas on rats, the plague also swept through Asia and North Africa. It resulted in the deaths of an estimated 25 million to 30 million people, approximately a third of Europe’s population at the time. Symptoms included fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and, in severe cases, blackening and necrosis of skin tissue. The year 1348 was the peak year of the pandemic. During this year, the disease spread rapidly across Europe, reaching its highest mortality rates.

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3. 1816 – The Year Without a Summer

In April of 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia exploded in a powerful eruption that wreaked havoc, disrupted the weather patterns worldwide, and killed tens of thousands of people. The following year, the sun seemingly turned to ash, and unusually cold, wet conditions swept across Europe and North America. It became known as “The Year Without a Summer,” “Poverty Year,” and “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death.” As crops failed, a number of food riots arose in Europe. Incessant rain worsened the situation, as some of the biggest rivers in Europe flooded.

Image Credit: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

4. 1918 – The Spanish Flu Pandemic

The Spanish Flu, the second deadliest pandemic in history after the bubonic plague, along with the aftermath of World War I and ensuing political and social chaos, made 1918 a tough time to be alive. The flu, caused by the influenza virus, is estimated to have killed 50 million people worldwide. The virus spread incredibly quickly across nearly every major country in three deadly waves, all within 15 months. In the U.S., from a population of 105 million, the flu claimed about 675,000 lives—almost 10 times more than the country’s World War I fatalities—and it dramatically lowered life expectancy by 10 to 12 years.

Image Credit: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

5. 1929 – The Wall Street Crash

The year 1929 is often marked as one of the most challenging years of the 20th century, primarily because it heralded the onset of the Great Depression. It began with the infamous Wall Street Crash in October, which wiped out millions of investors and set off a chain reaction that impacted economies worldwide. As banks failed and businesses closed, unemployment rates soared, leaving countless families in dire straits without a steady income or security.

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6. 1945–End of WWII

World War II was the deadliest conflict in history, and 1945 was a particularly grim year as it marked the war’s violent conclusion. This year witnessed the U.S. dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, leading to over 130,000 casualties. Additionally, the firebombing of Tokyo resulted in the deaths of between 80,000 and 130,000 civilians. As the war neared its end, the Nazis intensified their extermination efforts, trying to erase evidence of the Holocaust, which ultimately claimed the lives of around 6 million European Jews and millions of others. With the war ending in mid-August 1945, the worldwide death toll is estimated to reach 70 million to 85 million, representing about 3% of the global population at the time.

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7. 1968 – The Summer of Hate

If 1967 was the “Summer of Love,” then 1968 was its evil twin, bringing a much darker vibe. The groovy tunes and psychedelic posters of the previous year were overshadowed by grim headlines and societal upheaval. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy deeply shook the U.S., darkening the national mood. The Vietnam War escalated, and the Tet Offensive brought the brutal realities of war into living rooms worldwide. Violent protests erupted from Paris to Chicago, making peace and love feel like distant memories.

Image Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

8. 2001 – 9/11

The year 2001 was a particularly dark one mainly because of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, which tragically claimed nearly 3,000 lives and reshaped global politics and security. Earlier in the year, the dot-com bubble burst also hit hard, leading to major economic downturns worldwide.

Image Credit: Public Domain / Wikipedia.

9. 2020 – COVID-19

 2020 tested global resilience like no other — it was a year of “new normals” that felt anything but normal. The COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, claiming millions of lives and upending daily routines with social and economic fallout. Amid the health crisis, the death of George Floyd sparked a global wave of Black Lives Matter protests, highlighting deep-seated racial injustices and prompting calls for systemic change. Environmental calamities also took center stage, with catastrophic wildfires in Australia and the U.S. It was a year of hell, and we are trying to forget it. 

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

Image Credit: microgen / istockphoto.

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