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Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground Hardcover – Jun 30 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (June 30 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226449351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226449357
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2.5 x 25.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #122,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“In Disease Maps, University of British Columbia medical geographer Tom Koch explores the rich history of using maps to visualize epidemics, from early attempts to chart the menace of plague as it raced across medieval Europe and John Snow’s iconic cholera maps of the 19th century to modern-day depictions of cancer clusters and the spread of AIDS. Festooned with great old illustrations, maps, diagrams, and charts from outbreaks past, Disease Maps urges the reader to witness the genius and folly of the past in order to better map the epidemics of the future.”

(Scientist 2010-04-04)

"Remarkable. . . . If most people are ever inclined to think about disease mapping, it’s usually in relation to John Snow’s map of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London. Snow, we’re told in the usual triumphalist account, transcended medieval theories of disease transmission . . . ; he plotted cases on a street map, found they centered on a water well, removed that well’s handle, and saved lives. Koch demolishes this history of medical mapping with vicious relish. The result is a marvelous reverse-detective story."—Boston Globe

(Boston Globe)

"Map geeks, get excited. Tom Koch, a medical geographer in British Columbia, traces the history and contemporary applications of epidemic mapping. . . . The book contains maps of an 1819 yellow fever outbreak in New York, the spread of HIV across America in the 1980s, West Nile virus during the 2000s and dozens more."—Washington Post
(Washington Post)

Disease Maps is an extraordinary visual and narrative treat. I have come to look forward to Tom Koch’s books for the wonderful and unique way that he can synthesize data and present it visually and in the process tell us magnificent stories.”

(Dr. Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone 2010-10-21)

“This is a masterful book in conception and structure. It is also extremely well written. What we find on reading is an exquisite telling of the history of the medical science of disease. The collection of medical maps, diagrams, and other illustrations is impressive in scope—there are many disease maps shown that have not been publicly available before or collected in one place.”

(Michael Friendly, York University)

"This unconventional history charts the rise of epidemiology by examining how maps have been used to follow the spread of disease."—Science News


“[Disease Maps] is in many ways a fascinating book, not least in illustrating the beneficent power of the often unfairly maligned statistical method.”
(Literary Review)

"Elegantly written and richly illustrated. . . . Disease Maps is a sumptuous exploration of epidemics of the distant past and the geographical analyses that explained and transformed them. Well-written and replete with detailed, archival maps of episodes of bubonic plague, cholera, and yellow fever, it will delight and inform those who are fascinated by epidemics or those who are simply curious about how doctors of the past attempted to understand and to combat once seemingly cataclysmic events."

(New Republic)

Disease Maps is an impressive book that delves intothe spatial component of disease understanding. Kochprovides a multidisciplinary compilation of material thereader will notfind elsewhere. His writing style is engaging and provides a broad scope that should be appealing to a variety of audiences.”
(Frances Currin Mujica, University of South Alabama Cartography and Geographic Information Science)

About the Author


Tom Koch is adjunct professor of medical geography at the University of British Columbia; director of Information Outreach, Ltd.; and a prolific writer, researcher, and public speaker specializing in the fields of, gerontology, bioethics, medical cartography and public health. He is the author of fifteen books, including most recently Cartographies of Disease.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.3 out of 5 stars 4 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Maps Fight Disease, or Fail To Sept. 9 2011
By Rob Hardy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When there was a recent lethal breakout of e-coli in Germany, the great question was, "Where is the germ coming from?" It was time for epidemiological maps, tools that would chart disease and place so that we could get some answers. It was tough to do; such maps require data from many sources. Even so, good maps could do nothing to prevent nationalistic finger-pointing; remember the Germans initially blamed Spanish cucumbers? Eventually, the maps, and countless other data from clinicians and researchers with microscopes, helped find an answer that was scientifically sound. We count on the maps of disease and have done so for 300 years, though we did not know what we were doing at first and we still have to relearn basic lessons when something new comes up. Those are among the themes of _Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground_ (University of Chicago Press) by Tom Koch. The author is a professor of medical geography, who in this work has focused on the development and problems of map theory. The book is extensively illustrated, from engravings that show sailing ships and mermaids on the seas all the way to modern, computer-generated maps, all representing tools that have been armaments against disease.

The first maps shown here are from 1690 and have to do with plague. The rise of yellow fever in the eighteenth century was mapped when the disease came to New York. A map from 1796 shows wharf areas and locations of death from the illness, and demonstrates a false explanation: the illness was shown to be caused by bad smells. The most fascinating chapters of Koch's book are a rewriting the lessons from the most famous medical map in history. John Snow was an anesthesiologist, one who had assisted Queen Victoria in her deliveries, but he had a passion for combating cholera. He was impatient with the standard explanation that the illness was from airborne miasmas. The story goes that he mapped the houses around the Broad Street pump, showing how people near to that pump got cholera, and those nearer to other pumps did not. The story goes that he heroically removed the handle of the pump so that lives were saved. It's a good story, and when epidemiologists in the first decades of the twentieth century needed a heroic story, they resurrected the one about Snow. The only problem is that the story is not true. The pump handle part is complete fiction, and Snow never really proved, by map or otherwise, that cholera was caused by a waterborne agent. The fact is that other people were making maps of the outbreak, too, and the maps convinced them that yes, the disease might be at least partially waterborne, but without finding the germ that caused it (_vibrio cholerae_ would only be discovered and indicted in 1883), the maps were only suggestive. Snow was crankily and dogmatically insistent upon his waterborne theory (and in the end he was right), but his maps were inconclusive as were the maps of everyone else. As Koch writes, "Science is not about being proven right _someday_," but is rather about demonstrating evidence of your explanations at the time you make them.

The final chapter of Koch's book focuses on maps that have shown the disease that scares us most now, cancer, first the elegant statistical maps of the first half of the twentieth century, and then the computer-generated ones. We are still having problems with maps which seem to show causality, as Koch's remarks on the putative link between power lines and increased cancers and on the problem of citizens who are sure that cancer clustering in their neighborhoods is something more than a statistical anomaly. Now that smartphones can get that data in from every house, maps may become messier, or they may become more explanatory. Koch wisely explains that seeing diseases on all scales, worldwide or microscopic, is going to help us map wisely. In the meantime, here are many beautiful maps, with lovely calligraphy and illustrations, that are esthetic treats, if you can overlook that all are presenting mass deaths in graphic fashion.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a book of maps, but a book about maps Dec 10 2011
By Bruce Bender - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating look at the evolution of mapping as a tool for fighting disease. It clearly discusses the various assumptions behind different approaches to disease mapping, their evolution over time, and the necessary "bureaucracies" that evolved to support increasing statistical sophistication.

Having said that, it is a bit disappointing. The maps are too small to see, and the enlargement call-outs often confusing or mis-labelled. For a book about graphics, it is just not up to standard in its own graphics. The text also has some confusing typos in it, enough to disrupt the flow of thought fairly often. Someone should have proofed this better before publishing.

The writing style is pedagogical and quite repetitive. The major emphasis of the story is on cholera in London, which is explored in great detail. The book would have benefited from a broader array of examples, especially modern GIS examples, with some URLs so readers could see some recent maps in their original sizes and colors.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat disappointing Sept. 4 2011
By am - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book would do with a bit more of edition. It has several typos, most of them in the figures, which by the way sport a quite obsolete look. The maps, which are beautiful, are too small. The text refers to details in the maps that cannot be identified because the maps are undersized.
The order in the text is not easy to understand. The author brings up names of critics or writers that he will use in a single trivial sentence and never again. These two elements do not help make the book a compact unit.
This being said, the maps are beautiful to see and the book itself is a beautiful object, colorful and delightfully heavy. The book is informative on how cartography developed and on the relation between cartography and mapping the human body.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Jan. 3 2012
By Warwick C - Published on
Format: Hardcover
One would expect a book entitled Disease Maps would be a book full of maps with appropriate commentary. Instead this is a book full of commentary about maps, some of which are illustrated. Many maps are described but not illustrated.
Unfortunately, most of the maps included are far too small to read, even with a magnifying glass. Some enlarged inserts are included, but one insert asking the reader to compare Copenhagen and London with German cities shows only the German cities.
There are also numerous typos such as "1855 to 1805" (should be "1755 to 1805") and one map of India is captioned as being of England.
This book should have been a much larger format, in order to reproduce the maps at a better scale, and should have included all the maps described.
I am a lover of maps, not diseases, and so am very disappointed in this volume.