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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 / Steven Johnson.
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- Publication Information:New York : Riverhead Books, 2006.
- Publication Date:2006
- Physical Description:299 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.
- Publication Type:Book
- Document Type:Bibliographies; Non-fiction
- Subject Terms:Cholera -- England -- London -- History -- 19th century
- Online Access:http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0617/2006023114.html
Booklist Reviews 2006 October #1
/*Starred Review*/ More than two million people were squeezed into 30 square miles in Victorian London, producing massive quantities of waste that, before modern public waste disposal systems, fouled both land and the Thames River. Indeed, Johnson says, "No extended description of London from that period failed to mention the stench of the city." Some, called miasmatists, believed foul odors caused disease. Many believed the lifestyles of the poor and ignorant masses made them more susceptible to illness. Thus, in late summer of 1854, when cholera began claiming poor -working-class residents of the Golden Square neighborhood, popular opinion blamed the city's excavation of a nearby burial ground. But Dr. John Snow, an anesthesia expert and consultant to the queen, and the Reverend Henry Whitehead thought the pathogen might have a different source. Their dogged efforts soon ended the deadly epidemic. They demonstrated that Vibrio cholerae had been contracted by drinking contaminated water from the neighborhood pump. In the short run, Snow and Whitehead saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives. In the long run, their work, part of which consisted of mapping the disease's spread, resulted in efficient public waste disposal systems and disease control measures that saved millions worldwide. And that work is hardly done. ((Reviewed October 1, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2006 June #1
An account of how Dr. John Snow solved a medical mystery by tracking cholera's spread through Victorian London. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
LJ Reviews Newsletter
Readers who liked Lester's exploration of how differently da Vinci thought about science, how he saw what accepted scientific dogma ignored, and how he pushed beyond that ignorance in his own work may enjoy Johnson's scientific history of Victorian London and the cholera outbreak that claimed hundreds of lives. Like Lester, Johnson crafts a vivid picture of the times as he provides the background of accepted science on disease (that illness was spread through smells in the air) and follows Dr. John Snow as he determinedly pushes against the accepted theories and seeks to persuade the powerful that cholera was being spread through contaminated water. Johnson does an outstanding job detailing how Snow investigated the epidemic, explaining Victorian-era science and arguing how cities themselves shape history. His strongly narrative exploration tells intertwined stories, is full of vivid detail, and offers readers a quick pace. - "RA Crossroads " LJ Reviews 3/1/2012 (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
PW Reviews 2006 August #3
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. (Oct.)[Page 61]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Suspense & Science
I must admit that at first I was less than enthused to read a book about cholera. But K-State Book Network (KSBN) has picked The Ghost Map as their common book for 2014 and they haven’t failed me yet in picking out excellent reads. Of course I loved it and you probably will, too. Here’s why: 1. KSBN picked it, so after you read it and love it, you get to talk with others about it! We haven’t pinned down exactly what we’ll be doing yet, but we can guarantee that next fall there will be opportunities for discussion. 2. History – Learn all about Victorian London: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Johnson does a wonderful job of switching back and forth between an overview of the larger society and intimate stories of people’s lives. 3. Biography – At it’s heart, The Ghost Map is about Dr. John Snow and Reverend Henry Whitehead and how their personalities worked together to solve the mystery of cholera. 4. Science – Biology, epidemiology, and engineering: what more can you ask for? 5. Suspense – Reading about Snow and Whitehead trying to figure out the epidemic as the body count is quickly rising kept me on the edge of my seat!
A journal of the cholera week
Most of us are aware of how filthy London in the nineteenth century was. We have seen filmed depictions of Dickens novels even if we haven’t read the novels themselves that describe crowded, unsanitary conditions of people living elbow to elbow right next to the densely polluted Thames River. I was not aware, though not surprised, that there was a powerful and rapidly accelerating cholera epidemic stemming from the Broad Street area of central London in September of 1854. From our 21st century perspective it seems obvious that drinking polluted water is a guaranteed method of spreading disease. However, in mid-nineteenth century England, large numbers of intelligent, scientific men and women sincerely believed that such disease had miasmic origin i.e. foul-smelling odors could spread germs that were deadly when inhaled. Apparently their sense of smell was more highly developed than their sense of taste. It is hard for me to imagine that anyone could drink water contaminated by sewage without detecting something severely unhealthy. I must recall that this was in a pre-sanitation era, where matters as clean drinking water were rarely addressed. The primary holder of the theory in London of 1854 was a hard-working epidemiologist named John Snow. His experiments with ether and chloroform as reliable methods of anesthesia informed him enough to reject a miasmic theory of disease generation. If foul odors were the cause of such disease, then how could one explain sixty-year old ‘night-soil men,’ those people with the most unenviable jobs of cleaning the ‘night-soil,’ the human excrement, from the cesspools of the neighborhood, collecting it and carting it off to farmers outside the city walls? Snow conducted exhaustive experiments on the water from the various pumps in the area and his conclusive evidence and argument was persuasive enough to prompt the authorities to remove the handle from the Broad Street pump. Determining where people actually acquired their water and deposited their waste was much more difficult. He enlisted the aid of the local curate Henry Whitehead, who had originally rejected Snow’s theory of the contaminated water, became a convert, and relied on his knowledge of the population of the area to pinpoint the actual ‘index case’—a sick baby’s soiled diapers were deposited in the Broad Street well. The partnership of Snow and Whitehead solved the mystery of the origin of the cholera and tipped the scales in persuading the health authorities to evaluate the purity of the drinking water, leading to a massive drainage and sewage disposal system that radically improved the health of the London inhabitants and served as an example for other large cities to follow. Johnson deftly conveys scientific issues relating to bacteria and germ analysis in terms that are easy for the lay reader to understand. His narrative style draws the reader into a real-life whodunit thriller where the real killer is proven to be a microbial murderer and the detectives are the unlikely pairing of an anesthesiologist and a minister. It is a fairly taut and fast-paced account where the padding that fills out the length is almost as interesting as the account of the 1854 cholera epidemic itself. Johnson describes the evolution of toilets, the development of London’s sewer system, the importance of population density for a disease that travels in human excrement, the positive and negative aspects of urbanization and the development of cartographic maps, high tech versions of Snow’s ‘ghost map’ where he pinpointed the location of all the deaths in central London in relation to the Broad Street pump, in which conclusions can be derived from analysis of statistical and demographic data. Modern day Snows and Whiteheads have more sophisticated tools for rooting out disease. They will need all the sophistication and accuracy they can acquire because they have their work cut out for them in a world where the globalization of the planet has produced stakes that are even higher than cholera in central London.
Cholera in London
This is a non-fiction book that reads like a fiction who-done-it. Johnson brings London to life and the players in the battle to defeat cholera loom as great men in the race to save lives.
Interesting history, less interesting personal rum
Cholera periodically swept through London, and other major cities, into the middle of the 19th century, killing thousands. People blamed it on things like the weather, digging near graveyards, or poor ventilation, and felt that personal fortitude and moral integrity, based on class, would determine whether you lived or died. Actually, cholera is spread when drinking water is contaminated with sewage. Because the poorer parts of London had the worst sanitation, the disease tended to strike hardest in these areas. The public’s conclusion, however, was that the poor brought it upon themselves. As to how the disease was spread, even public health officials agreed that it spread through the air or miasma, and especially through noxious smells. All smell is, if it be intense, immediate acute disease; and eventually we may say that, by depressing the system and rendering it susceptible to the action of other causes, all smell is disease. –A statement by Edwin Chadwick, head of the General Board of Health, to a parliamentary committee in 1846. Therefore, they felt that the solution was to get rid of the smell by routing all the sewage into the Thames and letting the river carry it away. Unfortunately, the Thames supplied drinking water to the majority of the city (unless you could afford your own well or got your water from a tributary). When the 1854 epidemic broke out in their neighborhood, two men stepped up to try and find the cause. The first was Dr. John Snow, a preeminent anesthesiologist and scientifically-minded loner. The other was a gregarious and well-known clergyman in the neighborhood, Henry Whitehead. Snow focused on proving that the cholera was coming from the water supply, and Whitehead, at first opposed to the waterborne theory, eventually came to support it and even to find the index case for the epidemic. As a result of their work, sanitation and public works became a priority, not just in London, but other large cities as well. Although the book is quite repetitive, if it had ended here, I would have been a satisfied reader. Unfortunately, once the author moved beyond the historical, the book became a monologue on the author’s personal theories. These theories cover a wide range of topics, including the ecological and social networking advantages to living in cities; the possible threats to urban areas, such as terrorism and global warming; and why we will come to happily reside on a “planet of cities” despite these threats. My recommendation would be to skip the last two chapters of the book and stick with the 1854 epidemic.
A fabulous book. I loved it so much I bought my own copy. Author is a great writer and brings history back to life. I am going to read his other books. It is a gruesome but true story.
CSI before there was the television series
This is a fascinating book by a talented author that looks at how we learn - from each other, from scientific inquiry and amply demonstrates that often the "experts" don't know what they are talking about. The subject of this easy read is the deadly outbreak of cholera in urban London in 1854. An interesting aspect of the book is an explanation of a famous map that should how cholera was spread from a single contaminated public water pump.