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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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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

by

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World Cover

 

Staff Pick

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."
Recommended by Dave, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"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)

Review:

"Lively and educative." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"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

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

Review:

"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

Review:

"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

Review:

"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

Synopsis:

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

The Investigator

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

Conclusion

The Ghost Map

Epilogue

Broad Street Revisited

Author's Note

Acknowledgments

Appendix: Notes on Further Reading

Notes

Bibliography

Index

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 9 comments:

Maja Ramirez, June 20, 2014 (view all comments by Maja Ramirez)
Steven Johnson weaves a fabulous and far-ranging story of how a dread disease met its match in this dedication to the advent of hygiene, good record keeping, and stick-to-it-iveness.

Johnson references many professions which were vital to their times without rancor or judgment; there were ragpickers and nightsoil men because someone had to do remove trash and human excrement. Even Native Americans rate a mention in that "their alcohol intolerance mostly has another explanation" (not the United States's system of reservations nor a weak "Indian constitution"), but the fact that "their ancestors didn't live in towns."

No-one in mid-1840s England knew exactly whence came cholera, but the prevailing idea was, "from bad air," a miasma. If a family member today suffers intestinal distress, we think, "Something tainted was ingested," in huge part thanks to John Snow, the humble star of the book, who, as a dedicated detective should, kept on investigating the deaths in relation to the water pumps then in use in London, and publishing his findings.

It took considerable doing to convince the mid-nineteenth century elite there that the poor were not to blame for the ills which befell them. Thanks to the work of John Snow and Henry Whitehead, It can be argued that London is where the misguided idea that being born into poverty was therefore one's destiny began to unravel, and the scientific mind, though dispassionate, was keen to alleviate suffering, and looked on the downtrodden without rancor.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
ARB, March 24, 2014 (view all comments by ARB)
I enjoy reading about medical history and knew about John Snow's work on cholera, but this book really puts it into context. Johnson not only makes the mid-19th century come alive but draws parallels to the effects of modern-day urbanization on public health and the challenges the world will face in the future.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
NYCer, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by NYCer)
Who knew cholera could be so entertaining? The amazing rigor and determination of a few individuals amongst a sea of disbelievers created a crucial paradigm shift that impacts us today. This fascinating history reads like a dramatic whodunnit.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781594482694
Author:
Johnson, Steven
Publisher:
Riverhead Books
Subject:
History
Subject:
Infectious Diseases
Subject:
Europe - Great Britain - General
Subject:
Cholera - England - London - History -
Subject:
Health and Medicine-History of Medicine
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Mass Market
Publication Date:
20071031
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8.20x5.56x.69 in. .62 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects


Featured Titles » General
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » History of Medicine
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Medical Specialties
History and Social Science » Europe » Great Britain » General History
History and Social Science » Europe » Western Europe » General
History and Social Science » World History » England » General
History and Social Science » World History » General
Science and Mathematics » Biology » Microbiology

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.50 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Riverhead Trade - English 9781594482694 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

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."

"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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , 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.

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