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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 [Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged] [MP3 CD]

Steven Johnson , Alan Sklar
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1 2006
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.

From the dynamic thinker routinely compared to Malcolm Gladwell, E. O. Wilson, and James Gleick, The Ghost Map is a riveting page-turner with a real-life historical hero that brilliantly illuminates the intertwined histories of the spread of viruses, rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry. These are topics that have long obsessed Steven Johnson, and The Ghost Map is a true triumph of the kind of multidisciplinary thinking for which he's become famous-a book that, like the work of Jared Diamond, presents both vivid history and a powerful and provocative explanation of what it means for the world we live in.

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and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated.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.

The Ghost Map is an endlessly compelling and utterly gripping account of that London summer of 1854, from the microbial level to the macrourban-theory level-including, most important, the human level.

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Steven Johnson, bestselling author of Everything Bad is Good for You, is fantastically gifted, and anyone who doubts it need only consider this: in The Ghost Map, Johnson manages to make filth, overpopulation, feces and death the cornerstones of one of the year's snappiest page-turners. On the simplest level, The Ghost Map is the true-life tale of the cholera scourge that slammed London in 1854 and the two passionate and whip-smart men who ferreted out its cause. But it's also a biography, a detective saga, a horror story, a history lesson, a sociological rumination on cities, an unlikely but gripping celebration of the modern sewer system and a vivid portrait of historic London life.
"London's underground market of scavenging had its own system of rank and privilege, and near the top were the night-soil men," Johnson observes. "Like the beloved chimney sweeps of Mary Poppins, the night-soil men worked as independent contractors at the very edge of the legitimate economy, though their labor was significantly more revolting than the foraging of the mud-larks and toshers.
"City landlords hired the men to remove the "night soil" from the overflowing cesspools of their buildings. The collecting of human excrement was a venerable occupation; in medieval times they were called rakers. [But] the work conditions could be deadly: in 1326, an ill-fated laborer by the name of Richard the Raker fell into a cesspool and literally drowned in human shit."
Nice. Clearly much more than just a dry recitation of data--though the depth of Johnson's research is obvious--The Ghost Map is a hair-raiser that cooks from page one. A big reason is Johnson's ability to personify and animate what he terms "the invisible kingdom of microscopic bacteria," transforming cholera into a nefarious three-dimensional villain with a role to play and zest for the part.

His work as biographer also impresses. Johnson gives us two protagonists all but forgotten by history who really should be feted: Dr. John Snow, who 150 years ago in an era of superstition and tenaciously held scientific notions, managed to work out the simple equation that excrement + drinking water = death. We also meet Reverend Henry Whitehead who similarly helped to crack the cholera riddle by flat-footing it through Soho, interviewing residents and survivors and eventually coming to believe that Snow was onto something with his water-borne disease theory. (The prevailing wisdom of the day held that disease was airborne and linked to smell).

It is no exaggeration to say that Snow's efforts changed the world. Ditto engineer Joseph Bazalgette, whose sprawling, visionary English sewer system Johnson likens in stature and scope to the Eiffel Tower and Brooklyn Bridge. The Ghost Map is a great, great book, stuffed with cool factoids and told by a writer so conversant in his topic that it plays like an exquisite yarn shared over friendly beers. --Kim Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, but repetitive Jan. 2 2012
By Buyer
I thought this was a great book, and was well researched. It provided deep insight into Dr. Snow's research on the Cholera epidemics of London, but I found it to be quite repetitive. The last 2 chapters or so are basically reiterations of what was already said and I found myself skipping many pages in this last section. Otherwise, a great read for any epidemiologist, scientist, or anyone interested in public health or history.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I loved this book which was as much a story about London during an epidemic. It has much detail - from the theory of the discovery of the first person who got the plague - how it spread and, interestingly, who didn't become ill and why. Interesting book in these times of Ebola in Africa and possibly spreading to the rest of the world.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent May 18 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A vivid description of London cholera and the state of poverty in Britain in nineteenth century. I am writing a book on the effect of British rule on healthcare in India and the book provided some additional information..
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Ghost Map...hopeful April 18 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be most interesting. I learned a great deal about the development of safe cities. I am amazed at how, only 160 years ago, the London sewers were built to solve the problem of clean drinking water in an urban centre...certainly one of the great achievements of the 19th century. I worry not that with our dwindling resources and the lack of support for science we will not be able to punter the threats that plague us.
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5.0 out of 5 stars New science emerges from cholera epidemic Jan. 4 2014
By Nan
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The time of Victoria and Dickens, London's sky's are grey, the Thames a cesspool and in a tiny street in SOHO a baby dies. Western medicine is unable to save or even find the cause of the disease.
One doctor and one cleric create a new method and proof to stop the death toll from rising.
Enjoyable read, full of local London history and lessons for modern cities.
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By Mark Anderson TOP 50 REVIEWER
This is a fascinating book on an 1854 cholera outbreak in London's Soho district and the investigation into that outbreak by a medical doctor (who was also a pioneering anesthetist - a very interesting story within the main story) and a local Church of England parish vicar.

The investigation proved that cholera was transmitted by water and not through the stench of London, known as "miasma" in the scientific parlance of the day. It also created a new way of mapping disease outbreaks that is still used today.

The book is well written and engrossing from start to finish. It's an excellent book telling a fascinating true story of scientific investigation. Highly recommended.

And the audio book is very well done if you're inclined toward the audio book version.

I have only one criticism of this book and that's the ending, which strays into forecasting the future. Some of the forecasts the author makes seem a bit of a stretch. But on the historical story and the historical evidence, this book is excellent.
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