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The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World Paperback – October 2, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. On August 28, 1854, working-class Londoner Sarah Lewis tossed a bucket of soiled water into the cesspool of her squalid apartment building and triggered the deadliest outbreak of cholera in the city's history. In this tightly written page-turner, Johnson (Everything Bad Is Good for You) uses his considerable skill to craft a story of suffering, perseverance and redemption that echoes to the present day. Describing a city and culture experiencing explosive growth, with its attendant promise and difficulty, Johnson builds the story around physician John Snow. In the face of a horrifying epidemic, Snow (pioneering developer of surgical anesthesia) posited the then radical theory that cholera was spread through contaminated water rather than through miasma, or smells in the air. Against considerable resistance from the medical and bureaucratic establishment, Snow persisted and, with hard work and groundbreaking research, helped to bring about a fundamental change in our understanding of disease and its spread. Johnson weaves in overlapping ideas about the growth of civilization, the organization of cities, and evolution to thrilling effect. From Snow's discovery of patient zero to Johnson's compelling argument for and celebration of cities, this makes for an illuminating and satisfying read. B&w illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
In books such as Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Steven Johnson neatly draws connections between seemingly unconnected aspects of lifethink of James Burke in the digital age. The Ghost Map is no different in applying a 21st-century sensibility to a 19th-century cholera epidemic. According to critics, Johnson makes a single tactical error in the last pages, where he attempts to link the events he describes to too many other contemporary historical trends while ignoring some real-world realities. Regardless, the story is in capable hands, and the lives of individuals and a culture on the cusp of technological and medical advance resonates with readers 150 years later.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
His opening chapter "The Night-Soil Men" describes an 1854 London, with a hard-scrabble recycling system which very nearly matches our own, teaches us how a city worked, as an organic creature, profitable, dangerous and highly prone to disease, illness and death. Our own system, more sanitary and wasteful, could learn a few lessons from certain elements from that time. We also learn of the inventions in Victorian England which brought us indoor plumbing and septic tanks (the sewer systems were storm-water drainage for the city, not sewerage disposal).
Community water pumps were common and a curious Victorian pays attention when a cholera epidemic threatens the population in 1854. Author Johnson describes in great detail the occupants of the various domiciles in a specific neighborhood and their connection to an outbreak.
This book does NOT spare the powers-that-be and their actions as their citizens begin to die, but he also draws an important link to a mapmaker (yes, I said "mapmaker!") who approached the calamity from a different point of view.
A vital episode in humankind's evolution, he shows us how we now address disease control and what tools we have built from these humble beginnings.
This is a great, great book which I quote all the time. (I also loan it out...sorry, Amazon.)
Opening the pages of this most impressive account of sleuthing the source of the cholera outbreak was simply fascinating. Reverend Henry Whitehead and Dr. John Snow, two strangers of different backgrounds, joined together by circumstance shared valuable information and expertise. Independently each spent countless of hours interviewing, recording, and analyzing all collected data. The scientific mind of Dr. Snow compiled a map indicating the location and number of deaths therein. Whitehead as a trusted, respected local was key in turning the made up minds of city agencies who stubbornly clung to the idea the disease originated in the foul, smelly air to accepting the actual catalyst for the outbreak.
This is really an outstanding detective story very well told. A history lesson if you will. The facts, players and uncanny elusiveness of this indiscriminate killer called cholera progressed systematically without the bog down of boring statistics. The author skillfully carries history into our modern times with glimpses into our foreseeable future. A notable writing achievement.