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The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern Worldby Steven Johnson
In 1854, as a cholera epidemic ravaged London, prevailing wisdom blamed "miasma"; in other words, "bad air" was spreading the disease. One prominent physician disagreed. It was Dr. John Snow's work outside of the lab, however — his innovative mapmaking, of all things — that identified beyond a reasonable doubt the epidemic's true source. The Ghost Map thrives, similarly, on author Steven Johnson's interdisciplinary zeal. Local politics, medicine, urban planning, religious faith.... The Washington Post raves, "By turns a medical thriller, detective story and paean to city life, Johnson's account of the outbreak and its modern implications is a true page-turner."
Synopses & Reviews
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 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and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated.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.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In the short run, Snow and Whitehead saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives. In the long run, their work...resulted in efficient public waste disposal systems and disease control measures that saved millions worldwide. And that work is hardly done." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Lively and educative." Kirkus Reviews
"There's a great story here...and Johnson recounts it well....His book is a formidable gathering of small facts and big ideas, and the narrative portions are particularly strong, informed by real empathy for both his named and his nameless characters." David Quammen, The New York Times Book Review
"The Ghost Map charts the London cholera epidemic of 1854, from which Johnson extracts a saga of human ingenuity and true communal effort." Los Angeles Times
"By turns a medical thriller, detective story and paean to city life, Johnson's account of the outbreak and its modern implications is a true page-turner." The Washington Post
"This is a marvelous little book, based to a large extent on the essays delivered to an academic colloquium, just as was Dava Sobel's Longitude (1996). Yet The Ghost Map is a far more ambitious and compelling work." The Wall Street Journal
"The simultaneously macro and micro examination of a hugely pivotal moment, both in the understanding of disease and the growth of cities. Highly informative, deeply entertaining, meticulously assembled. Splendid." William Gibson
A National Bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and an Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year
It's the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure-garbage removal, clean water, sewers-necessary to support its rapidly expanding population, the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure. As the cholera outbreak takes hold, a physician and a local curate are spurred to action-and ultimately solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.
In a triumph of multidisciplinary thinking, Johnson illuminates the intertwined histories of the spread of disease, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry, offering both a riveting history and a powerful explanation of how it has shaped the world we live in.
About the Author
Steven Johnson is the author of seven bestsellers, including Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You, and is the editor of the anthology The Innovator's Cookbook. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites — most recently, outside.in — and writes for Time, Wired, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Marin County, California, with his wife and three sons.
Table of Contents
The Ghost Map Preface
Monday, August 28
The Night-Soil Men
Saturday, September 2
Eyes Sunk, Lips Dark Blue
Sunday, September 3
Monday, September 4
That Is To Say, Jo Has Not Yet Died
Tuesday. September 5
All Smell Is Disease
Wednesday, September 6
Building The Case
Friday, September 8
The Pump Handle
The Ghost Map
Broad Street Revisited
Appendix: Notes on Further Reading
What Our Readers Are Saying
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