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The Ghost Map: The Story of London's…

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and… (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Steven Johnson

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2,7941512,090 (3.94)2 / 242
Title:The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Authors:Steven Johnson
Info:Riverhead Trade (2007), Edition: 1 Reprint, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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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 Steven Johnson (2006)

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Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
I was disappointed by this. Partly because I don't think it lived up to its hype, but mostly because I think Johnson had about 75 pages of material, and he really had to work hard to stretch it into a full book.

The book is about a horrible cholera outbreak in Victorian London, and a doctor who investigated the source of the outbreak and discovered that it was a contaminated well. The conventional wisdom at the time was that diseases spread in the air, so this particular outbreak and the fact that it was proven to come from contaminated water marked a major turning point in our understanding of disease and the need for clean water.

The story is fascinating, and the information is well-researched. However, the book is really bad at setting up reader expectations and then not meeting them.

For instance, the titular Ghost Map isn't even mentioned until the very final chapter, and then it turns out the map was an after-the-fact thing that played a very small role in the actual events. Johnson also does a lot to build up the door-to-door investigations done at the time, but then says very little about the actual process of investigation. Kudos to him for not making up information he doesn't have, but it was disappointing that he didn't have that information after playing it up to be so important.

That's not to say I regret reading the book (although I did skim some of the very long tangents about urbanization and environmentalism) - there was lots of really interesting information here. I just wish it had been more focused. ( )
  Gwendydd | Sep 30, 2016 |
I didn't think I would enjoy a book that started about how people used to get rid of their poop, but I did. I'm honestly not sure what to think of the dramatic way Johnson tells this story. On the one hand, it's what kept me turning pages all day yesterday until I finished the book. But on the other hand, it's a little unbelievable the way he enters the minds of John Snow and Whitehead. Overall, it was a pretty fascinating book. ( )
2 vote captainmander | May 11, 2016 |
An easy reading and interesting retelling of the cholera epidemic that struck 19th century London. The author focuses on how two residents of the afflicted Soho community, a doctor and pastor, ultimately combine efforts to challenge the scientific community's prevailing theory that cholera was caused by miasma (noxious odors in the atmosphere caused by filth and decay). Today we know that cholera is caused by waterborne bacteria. How these two gentlemen led the way to that discovery makes for a fascinating story.

Unfortunately, the book was at least one chapter too long. After concluding the story, the author speculates as to comparable modern challenges, digressing to the point of discussing nuclear attacks. Perhaps true, but completely unnecessary for this work. ( )
  la2bkk | May 4, 2016 |
The story being told here is a fascinating one, and probably accounts for the popularity of this book. If you're already roughly familiar with the story, this book really fails to be gripping.

It reads to me like it would have been a dynamite magazine article, but was padded out to book length with a lot of repetition, overly-lengthy descriptions, and long, unilluminating 'philosophical' passages about the ways that scientific knowledge advances, full of overloaded (and mixed) metaphors. There's good stuff here for the general reader, though, if you don't mind doing a fair amount of skimming. ( )
  theparsley | Mar 24, 2016 |
I enjoyed the historical portions, but skip the summation chapters and the epilogue. They were hugely annoying. Stop saying "simply vanish", "even as i write", and "city-planet". The vocabulary was repetitive, but so were the concepts. I would have highly recommended it if the author hadn't wandered off into speculating about the end of the world. Which, you know, could simply vanish after one suitcase bomb, planted even as I write, and destroy our city-planet as we know it. ( )
2 vote adraucker | Mar 12, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
To nonfiction book writers: if you want your book to sell, make huge, dramatic claims with your title and/or subtitle. If you want your book to be a bestseller, you actually have to fulfill those claims. Steven Johnson has done both, again and again.

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steven Johnsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gibson, BenjaminCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sklar, AlanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"A Klee painting named 'Angelus Novus' shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistably propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."
—Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History"
For the women in my life:

My mother and sisters, for their amazing work
on the front lines of public health

Alexa, for the gift of Henry Whitehead

and Mame, for introducing me to London so many years ago . . .
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It is August 1854, and London is a city of scavengers.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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From Amazon: 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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An account of the worst cholera outbreak in Victorian London--and an exploration of how Dr. John Snow's solution revolutionized the way we think about disease in cities. In the summer of 1854, a devastating cholera outbreak seized London just as it was emerging as a modern city. Author Johnson chronicles Snow's day-by-day efforts as he risked his own life to prove how the epidemic was being spread. When he created the map that traced the pattern of outbreak back to its source, Dr. Snow didn't just solve a pressing medical riddle--he 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.--From publisher description.… (more)

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