Customer Review

78 of 89 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Parts are great, overall frustrating, December 18, 2006
This review is from: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (Hardcover)
As I've indicated in my header for this review, I think parts of this book are great but parts are frustrating. I debated between three and four stars, 3.5 is about what I feel would be just.

Great: the background on Victorian sanitation and the human ecology that grew up about this sanitation (or lack thereof). For example, I bet you didn't know there was a whole occupation devoted to the collection of "pure" (dog poo) used in the tanning process. The details of the spread of cholera in the outbreak traced by Dr. Snow are fascinating, as is the dissection of the cult of miasma. The varnished cover, with a ghostly map (but it's not *the ghost map*) appearing at the right angle is very cool.

Not so great: This is a book called "The Ghost Map". It could use a great deal more cartography. The wonderful cover to the despite, there's no reproduction that I could see of the eponymous ghost map in the book.

The book could also have used a good editor, or at least some more self-editing on the part of Mr. Johnson. Coverage of Victorian sanitation, Dr. Snow, and the cholera outbreak of 1854 is fascinating every icky step of the way. But when Johnson heads out of the limits of his tale and heads into Jane Jacobs territory, his chapters begin to sound like lightly reworked Wired articles. Johnson's thoughts on global warming, for example, really do not belong in this book. A more disciplined approach to narrative could have produced a great and classic title. Alas, this book is not.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 28, 2008 10:11:02 PM PST
You said that there wasn't a reproduction of the ghost map in the book. It actually appears 6 times in the book. The chapter "conclusion - the ghost map" even has it as the chapter image. The map is even explained in that chapter and you still failed to recognize it. And the fact that you said "it could use a great deal more cartography" has no merit. This book was full of geographic information which is the basis of cartography. Yes, Dr. Snow did make a map, but the point to the title is how the map came to be. The map was just his vessel for relaying all of the evidence that he collected. You missed the big picture on this one. I think you are a bit of an elitist and you have trouble giving credit where credit is due. No offense, but I couldn't let this one go.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 18, 2011 12:55:57 AM PDT
cristiline says:
Joe is right about the reproductions of the map, though I didn't notice them until he pointed it out. They occur on the back of the pages with the images that preface each chapter, in addition to it being the image that prefaces the chapter "The Ghost Map." I do agree with Harold's other criticisms, though. It seems to lose focus around the 200 page mark. Or, considering the title, perhaps it was only after the first 200 pages that he got to the point. While they could both make good books separately, they seem too disconnected to be part of the same book.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2013 7:32:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 1, 2013 7:43:49 PM PDT
J. Mcgregor says:
I agree with Harold. There were portions of the map displayed, and any number of descriptions of it, but the map in its entirety was not shown. I had to Google, "John Snow's Map" to finally see the full, earth-shaking map. Describing it just doesn't cut the mustard for obvious reasons. Geographic information is not "the basis of cartography" when it is in print. The "...graphy" in cartography refers to drawing. The map I found via Google showed both the "bars" that indicated number of deaths per household, plus the hugely significant line that defined the perimeter of the area where the Broad Street well was most likely to be the one used. Why that is not in the book, I have no idea. I also agree with Harold about the "lack of discipline." The book is padded and rambles in places, and just overreaches thematically. However, it is very entertaining, and worth a read. It's strengths overpower its weaknesses.

Posted on Dec 4, 2013 3:57:43 PM PST
vgs1895 says:
Excellent review! As I read the book, which is fascinating in parts, I was struck by the same sentiments. Why are certain thoughts just randomly put in the book? They really didn't belong, and I wondered if I were the only one to think that. In fact, this one book could have been made into two completely separate books: the epidemic itself and the author's thoughts on every other subject. I, too, would have enjoyed more maps.

And I agree with the 3.5 star rating. Thank you!

Posted on Apr 14, 2014 12:12:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 14, 2014 12:13:55 PM PDT
joe-maryland says:
Wow - I wrote my review and I could have just pointed to this one. As for the "missing" map, I read the book and totally missed the maps as well. In web design terms, they get used as "themes" and "page backgrounds". They are usually printed in a faded-out way like a translucent image. I just mentally tuned them out as decorations and was waiting and waiting for the real map to see what the hell he was talking about! Also it seems like this book resembles a late night college BSing session involving beer or other substances. He will divert off into atom bombs and 9-11 and who knows what else.
* the maps on Google are WAY WAY better than anything in the book.
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