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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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2,6621322,240 (3.94)2 / 235
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 by Steven Johnson (2006)


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Showing 1-5 of 130 (next | show all)
This book just wasn't very interestingly written... ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
This book just wasn't very interestingly written... ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
This book describes the cholera epidemic in Victorian London and the research done by Dr John Snow to discover the source. Snow's methodology created a map identifying the spread of the disease combined with the source of drinking water thus disproving the widely-held miasma theory. Johnson's account was very interesting in the early part of the book and then became mired in detail with much repetition, eventually veering into an unnecessary look at modern times.

To illustrate the horror of the 54,000 epidemic-caused deaths in one year, Johnson bizarrely asks the reader to imagine such an event happening in Manhattan! ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Oct 27, 2015 |
A well-researched exploration of how two men - one, a "gentleman scientist," the other, an observant and curious prelate - applied scientific method (a rare and misunderstood thing back in those days!) to pinpoint the source of a deadly cholera outbreak in London during the 1850s. What I liked about the book:

* A fascinating snapshot into the state of medical knowledge in the 1850s. The amount of ignorance that still remained in the field is staggering! Definitely makes you appreciate how far we've come in a relatively short time.

* Interesting discussion of how human psychology impacts (significantly) the willingness of folks to accept new scientific explanations that don't necessarily jibe with their own qualitative observations. Eerily pertinent to what's going on with climate change right now.

* An accessible account of the specific physiological impacts of cholera on the infected host; also, the precise circumstances under which the contagion is able to spread. Also very pertinent, given current ongoing outbreaks of cholera in Africa and in countries that have recently experienced mass infrastructure devastation due to natural events (tsunamis, hurricanes).

* Interesting insights into how parasites and hosts have been shaping the evolution of one another through time - including a rather fascinating argument that Europeans evolved the ability to consume quantities of alcohol - a toxic substance - because drinking alcohol afforded us the evolutionary advantage of resistance against disease-causing bacteria. Again pertinent, given growing alarm over antibiotic-resistant bacteria ... proof, if proof was needed, that bacteria and other living organisms are just as driven to survive as we are.

* A cool reflection on how visual imaging can shape and communicate data in powerful, sometimes transformative ways. We learn that our two ersatz scientists admonished local health boards in vain to make the necessary infrastructure improvements ... until one of them thought to overlay the data they had collected on a map of London, creating the "ghost map" of the title that was ultimately successful in "selling" their message. An insight we take almost for granted here in the 21st century, the era of infographics, but which was still an emerging idea back in the 1900s

What I didn't like about the book:

* The text felt "stretched" - in the words of Bilbo Baggins, "like butter scraped over too much bread." Obvious inferences were explained ad nauseum, and specific anecdotes/details were often repeated multiple times. Feel like the story could have been told just as effectively over 200 pages vs. the current 300.

* The loooong discussion of London's ecosystem, which - while moderately relevant - seems way too specific and prolonged for Johnson's avowed purpose. I got the feeling Johnson couldn't decide if he was writing a science text or a socio-economic history.

All-in-all, though, a worthy, engaging, and informative read, both as a history and as a source of insights relevant to world issues today. If we gave students this information in school, I bet no sewer infrastructure improvement ballot initiative would ever go unfunded again! ( )
1 vote Dorritt | Aug 14, 2015 |
Johnson tells the story of the massive Cholera outbreak in England in the 1850s. He traces its impact on society and the lasting impacts that still resonate today. He discusses the contaminated water sources that caused so many problems and made frequent reference to Dickens novels that were written around the same time.

One point the author made that I did find fascinating was his conclusion about modern day society’s alcohol tolerance. He says our population went through a “genetic bottleneck” and many of us are descended from people who can tolerate alcohol, because those are the people who survived the bad plague outbreaks in Europe. Native Americans and Aborigines’ descendants in Australia on the other hand were never forced to go through that form of survival and tend to have a higher tendency towards alcoholism. It’s something I never considered, but it’s an interesting conclusion.

BOTTOM LINE: The book is impeccably well researched, but not too readable. It had a hard time keeping my attention. Skip it unless disease outbreak, medical research, etc. are of particular interest to you. ( )
  bookworm12 | Aug 12, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 130 (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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