The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

19 Apr

Title: The Ghost Map

Author: Steven Johnson

Publisher: Penguin 2008

Genre: Nonfiction – Science (epidemics)

Pages: 320

Rating:   4 / 5 stars

Reading Challenges: Mixing It Up — Science; Dewey — 600s; Mount TBR

How I Got It: I own it!

 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. 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and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that’s outdated as soon as it’s updated.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. 
Epidemics have always fascinated me.  I also thought that was the one area of medicine that I would have enjoyed.  Instead, I became a social studies teacher.  Thankfully, I still get to read about epidemics through books like The Ghost Map. 
Johnson blends historical narrative, science, and social commentary to create a very readable account of a devastating epidemic.  I have read some science history texts that have bored me to tears.  Too many of them focus solely on the science, not mentioning the human effect.  Johnson uses both sides to tell a remarkable story.  And it’s one that I haven’t heard before.  It definitely opened my eyes to the way society and specifically city living has changed the microbe world.  I would definitely recommend this book to the geeky historical minds out there. 
On a side note: while reading the book, I experienced a nasty stomach bug for about 24 hours.  I was convinced that I had cholera and obsessed about it for about half a day. 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Book Reviews


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One response to “The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

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