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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


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Angela Gibbs, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Angela Gibbs)
This book was fascinating and revealing, exploring the public health implications of city life and the outbreak of cholera in London. I thought this book was a little haunting, as the cholera outbreak in Haiti occurred while I was half-way through the book. I think we have a lot to learn from the past and the way we tackle problems of the unknown. Great read!
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
lmcgee, September 5, 2007 (view all comments by lmcgee)
"The Ghost Map" is the fascinating story of the 1854 cholera epidemic in London. It tells how the epidemic started, and how two men, Dr. John Snow and Reverend Henry Whitehead solved the riddle of how cholera spread throughout sections of London.

This book is exceptionally well-written and deserves the Pulitzer Prize.
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(29 of 59 readers found this comment helpful)
Marie, February 27, 2007 (view all comments by Marie)
The author does a fine job of making interesting what could be a dry subject . The story is fascinating and not particularly gruesome as told unless one is particularly squeamish.

This book does a nice job of putting us into the historical perspective, which we moderns often have trouble doing on our own (oh why can't our ancestors be clever and enlightened like us!).

My biggest complaint: Just about 2/3s through, he runs out of material about the Ghost Map and, since the publisher apparently thought he should go on, the rest of the book is fluffed up with dissertation about cities and the advantages and dangers that lurk therein. It's interesting enough stuff, but gets a little tiresome.

Overall, however, a very good and surprisingly quick read.
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(24 of 43 readers found this comment helpful)
Janna Mauldin Heiner, January 6, 2007 (view all comments by Janna Mauldin Heiner)
An infant dies in a slum in London, and within hours every block, nearly every house, are filled with the sick and dying. The word goes out. _Cholera_.

In the London of the 1850s, cholera was a terrifying disease, spreading quickly and killing quickly. Popular theories blamed its spread on "miasma," the noxious essences of life, basically tracing illness to things that smelled bad. Poverty, with its close living conditions and accompanying smells, was equated with depravity, and even God was invoked as the power behind cholera's sweeping judgements.

In this atmosphere, in a crowded Victorian neighborhood in a city poised to make significant upgrades to its sewage and water-delivery systems, two men walked among the sick, independently offering what they could. One was a clergyman named Whitehead; the other a scientist named Snow. Their activities, though separate, would intertwine to slowly strangle the myth of miasma.

In _The Ghost Map_, Steven Johnson has written both a compelling page-turner of a story, and a fascinating historical study of a significant event at the threshhold of modern medical understanding.
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(35 of 66 readers found this comment helpful)
Thomas Kirby, November 27, 2006 (view all comments by Thomas Kirby)
This book details the cholera outbreak of 1854 in London, the doctor who first theorized that cholera was spread by water, and the prevailing scientists who refused to accept the truth. The final chapter covers the possibility that cholera, another disease, or other dangers could kill large numbers of people because of today's population density, and what can be done.
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(20 of 38 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Johnson, Steven
Riverhead Trade
Infectious Diseases
Europe - Great Britain - General
Scientists - General
Great britain
History, 19th Century - London
Cholera - England - London - History -
Health and Medicine-History of Medicine
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
November 2006
Grade Level:
from 12
9.30x6.10x1.13 in. 1.15 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » History of Medicine
History and Social Science » World History » England » General

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World Used Hardcover
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Product details 320 pages Riverhead Books - English 9781594489259 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Lively and educative."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "The Ghost Map charts the London cholera epidemic of 1854, from which Johnson extracts a saga of human ingenuity and true communal effort."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , This thrilling historical account of the worst cholera outbreak in Victorian London is a brilliant exploration of how Dr. John Snow's solution revolutionized the way we think about disease, cities, science, and the modern world.
"Synopsis" by ,

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.

Watch a QuickTime trailer for this book.

"Synopsis" by ,
A National Bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and an Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year

From Steven Johnson, the dynamic thinker routinely compared to James Gleick, Dava Sobel, and Malcolm Gladwell, The Ghost Map is a riveting page-turner about a real-life historical hero, Dr. John Snow. 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 and interconnectedness of the spread of disease, contagion theory, 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.

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