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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

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,3741922,616 (3.97)2 / 316
"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: more than 2 million people packed into a ten-mile circumference, a hub of travel and commerce, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated. 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."--Source other than the Library of Congress.… (more)
  1. 40
    The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly (meggyweg)
  2. 20
    The Medical Detective: John Snow, Cholera and the Mystery of the Broad Street Pump by Sandra Hempel (Ape)
  3. 20
    One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858 by Rosemary Ashton (Othemts)
  4. 20
    The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry (John_Vaughan)
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    Sandydog1: A much, much, more recent (and equally gross) epidemiological thriller/mystery.
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    JBDTest2: Testing a bug (but these two do seem like they'd go well together)
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    The Medical Detectives, Volume 1 by Berton Roueché (Jerry.Yoakum)
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    Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830-1910 by Richard J. Evans (Rosentredere)
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» See also 316 mentions

English (187)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (191)
Showing 1-5 of 187 (next | show all)
NF
  vorefamily | Feb 22, 2024 |
I have mixed feelings about this one. I enjoyed the first part of the book, for the most part, when he was just talking history. Toward the end, and after the original source of the disease was revealed, it took an eye-rolling turn. I wish I would have just stopped after the history and skipped the global warming, fear mongering, and treatise on cities = good; country = ignorant people who can't stop having kids. (Dear author, I live in Arkansas by choice and am from Oregon by birth. I have 9 children. I'm also really smart. Sorry I don't fit your narrative.)

The author is a preachy humanist/environmentalist/atheist annoying pain in the &%#%@# so it's hard to take some of his future solution ideas very seriously. Just give me the facts...let me figure out my own response to them.

Hillbilly Me did manage to math enough to figure out that this epidemic was far, far worse than the one we're supposedly currently experiencing. The COVID death rate for England and Wales at the time of my figurin' was .00002%, while the rate for cholera was .0003%. Both are pretty miniscule, but one death is enough to investigate the cause and make reasonable and intelligent changes.

Regardless of my over the top, too personal feelings of dislike for the author, I love books like this that are chockfull of history. While I don't believe in macro-evolution, micro-evolution has always fascinated me. I found his ideas about inconsistencies among various cultures regarding alcohol adaptation/resistance especially interesting. I also had to chuckle at so much of the ignorant thinking in those days and wondered if the board of health was so worried about the air, why were they sending people in to so intimately investigate? When I read about the ignorance of past science, it makes me wonder how many of our fantastic and innovative ideas will one day be viewed as ignorant? Ha! ( )
  classyhomemaker | Dec 11, 2023 |
I like Johnson’s style. You get the whole story, but he’s got an underlying theme to give the whole thing form and meaning. An enjoyable read and you know a whole bunch about this interesting turning point in history by the end. ( )
  BBrookes | Nov 22, 2023 |
This book was absolutely MADE of context, in a way that I found incredibly satisfying. At its most basic level, this is the story of cholera epidemic in London that led to the discovery (finally) of how cholera is transmitted.

But it is the how, yes? How this happened that is fascinating, and Johnson is all about placing this moment in its proper contexts -- from economics, sanitation, city planning, dominant scientific paradigms, communication, the medical profession...

Sometimes all these layers of context can cause some circling back that may cause impatience if you're just trying to get to the payoff, but for the most part, I was delighted. ( )
  greeniezona | Nov 19, 2023 |
One of the finest books I've read ( )
  jscot | Nov 8, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 187 (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 (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steven Johnsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gibson, BenjaminCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sklar, AlanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"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"
Dedication
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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"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: more than 2 million people packed into a ten-mile circumference, a hub of travel and commerce, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated. 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."--Source other than the Library of Congress.

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Haiku summary
Groups dropping like flies//breathing the germs! poisoned air!//still water, brewing

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