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The Ghost Map
The Ghost Map
Author: Steven Johnson
A thrilling historical account of the worst cholera outbreak in Victorian London -- and a brilliant exploration of how Dr. John Snow's solution revolutionized the way we think about disease, cities, science, and the modern world. — From the dynamic thinker routinely compared to Malcolm Gladwell, E. O. Wilson, and James Gleick, The Ghost Ma...  more » is a riveting page-turner with a real-life historical hero that brilliantly illuminates the intertwined histories of the spread of viruses, rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry. These are topics that have long obsessed Steven Johnson, and The Ghost Map is a true triumph of the kind of multidisciplinary thinking for which he's become famous -- a book that, like the work of Jared Diamond, presents both vivid history and a powerful and provocative explanation of what it means for the world we live in.

The Ghost Map takes place in the summer of 1854. A devastating cholera outbreak seizes London just as it is emerging as a modern city: more than 2 million people packed into a ten-mile circumference, a hub of travel and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated. Dr. John Snow-whose ideas about contagion had been dismissed by the scientific community -- is spurred to intense action when the people in his neighborhood begin dying. With enthralling suspense, Johnson chronicles Snow's day-by-day efforts, as he risks his own life to prove how the epidemic is being spread.

When he creates the map that traces the pattern of outbreak back to its source, Dr. Snow didn't just solve the most pressing medical riddle of his time. He ultimately established a precedent for the way modern city-dwellers, city planners, physicians, and public officials think about the spread of disease and the development of the modern urban environment.

The Ghost Map is an endlessly compelling and utterly gripping account of that London summer of 1854, from the microbial level to the macrourban-theory level -- including, most important, the human level.
ISBN-13: 9781594489259
ISBN-10: 1594489254
Publication Date: 10/19/2006
Pages: 320
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.

3.9 stars, based on 28 ratings
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Book Type: Hardcover
Members Wishing: 9
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

ThreeCats avatar reviewed The Ghost Map on + 34 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
Compelling history of a cholera epidemic in London in 1854, a time when people did not know that bacteria and viruses cause disease, a time when there were no sanitary sewers, so waste products were simply dumped in the backyard or the basement. Author lost me a bit in the last 1/3 of the book when he began to speculate about the future and run on a bit about city structure, but the first 2/3 is a first class read.
sevenspiders avatar reviewed The Ghost Map on + 73 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
The difficulty in reading about centuries past is adopting the mindset of those who lived then; how can we, with our 21st century knowledge, grasp a world in which people washed their babies' diapers next to the local drinking supply and thought nothing of it? Yet, Johnson weaves such a detailed picture of London life at the time that the commonplace miscomprehensions held by both the academics and uneducated are understandable. Johnson's greatest narrative gift is capturing the extent of the devastation and its commonplace nature in 19th century London, where people lived with the constant threat of epidemic.

The last fifth of the book is given over to Johnson's theorizing about the future of city planning, trying to tie it into the work of the pioneering researchers of the cholera outbreak. This non sequitur weakens the overall book, but only slightly. The mystery is real, the medical discoveries ingenious and Johnson's research and narrative compelling.
BaileysBooks avatar reviewed The Ghost Map on + 902 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
The first 85% of this book is very good. I really enjoy historical renderings of medical cases or scientific/technological discoveries, and this recounting of the cholera epidemic in London did not disappoint.

If the book would have ended with the conclusion of the medical mystery, I think I would have been content. But the last few chapters of this book transition from a historical retelling of the cholera epidemic to the author's opinions and predictions regarding past, present, and future outbreaks of various disease processes and epidemics. While these discussions are somewhat relevant in light of the way in which the cholera epidemic was handled, it is not an ending that I preferred. Perhaps it was just because I wansn't really expecting it.

Author opinions aside, I thought that this book did a very good job of following the historical events that surrounded the cholera outbreak at the Broad Street pump. Because of that, I do recommend this book to anyone who enjoys factual but well-written medical history of the 19th century.
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mnphotos1951 avatar reviewed The Ghost Map on + 10 more book reviews
I must agree with the other reviewers. The first 85% of the book was fascinating - I learned things about London, the people, the culture that I had never read of before. The writing was clear and the story moved itself forward. I would recommend this book to anyone!

But, I never finished it - I hardly ever stop reading a book, but the last part seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of story. I had learned all I was going to learn about the cholera epidemic, so I just put it aside and passed it on.

But, don't get me wrong - this is a book that should be read by everyone, at least the first 85% of it.


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