The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
The Ghost Map The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science Cities and the Modern World 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 Map i... more »s 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and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated.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.« less
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sevenspiders - reviewed The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World on + 73 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 7
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.
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.
This was a fascinating book! This is not just a history book. The author not only writes clearly and lucidly about London's great cholera outbreak in 1854, but he extrapolates out from that some very interesting thoughts about urbanisation in the 21st century and the way forward for an over-burdened planet.
I really enjoyed the history of this book, but the last couple of chapters also presented me with some new ideas about the life we live today and really made me think.
Dusty S. reviewed The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World on + 2 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This book is probably the most informative book that I have read this year. It is written in a manner that a non-scientist is able to follow and understand the epidemic and the causes without having to look up every other word.
Wow - a truly amazing book. This book is well-researched. The ways this epidemic spread, those who tried to solve the problem, and different medical and scientific methods still in place today really make what could be very dry material into quite a page turner. You find yourself truly rooting for some of the characters - and this is non-fiction! I recommend this book to those interested in: English History, medicine and diseases, general nonfiction. I keep very few books permanently, but this will be one of them.
kickerdad - , reviewed The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World on + 78 more book reviews
I was worried after reading some other reviews about how 'graphic' this may be. I shouldn't have been. "The Ghost Map" is a fascinating - and timely - account of the 1854 cholera epidemic outbreak in London. Steve Johnson does a fabulous job of weaving the threads of this historic event together. Not only with personal details extracted from historical records but the psycho-social and scientific climate of the time. It is a wonderful depiction of how science can blind us to the realities around us; how the interpretation of data based on an incorrect assumption can lead to inaccurate results. Johnson lays out how the mobility of society into urban populations has had an impact on our lives, our health, and overall existence; and in turn how our urban environments have had an impact on themselves.
The epilogue seems awkward and incongruent with the rest of the book - other than using the events of the epidemic to point out that science may not always have the answer. And just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. [4/5]