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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

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

What We Take for Granted

In the London of 1854, to live was to be not dead yet.
A city of more than two million people in 30 square miles, London was a complex gathering of layers of underclasses mixed with the wealthy few. Lacking the infrastructure to support its exploding population, the ci...
In the London of 1854, to live was to be not dead yet.
A city of more than two million people in 30 square miles, London was a complex gathering of layers of underclasses mixed with the wealthy few. Lacking the infrastructure to support its exploding population, the city was ripe for plaque, epidemics, and rampant diseases. Knowing no reason for its cause and having no idea for its cure, the people of the city suffered numerous epidemics of Cholera during the 19th century.
"The city is life's largest footprint; from man to microbe; each found a new way of making a living," is the theme of this story. The author tells us of the story of a city that had no means of recycling its waste, and the disaster that was manmade. Water recycling is the hallmark of almost all complex systems from the rain forests to the coral reefs, and waste management, in whatever form, is essential to life on earth. The spread of cholera through drinking water was an unknown concept to a scientific world that had not yet discovered bacteria.
John Snow, renowned for his work in anesthesiology and the use of ether and chloroform, struggled to find the reason for the spread of cholera, even though he could not find a cure. This is the story of his journey to save the people of London, and his unlikely liaison with the Rev. Henry Whitehead. These two men changed the history of England's greatest city, and brought sanitation and water safety to a world that knew little of either. Visionary engineer Joseph Bazalgette was responsible for the sewer system of the city of London that has remained successful into the 21st century.
This history explores the dramatic increase of people in urban spaces, fueled by the loss of common land in England that brought tenant farmers to the cities and the use of coal that fueled the Industrial Revolution and need for cheap labor.
The author explains that through much of human history, the solution to the public health problem was not the purifying of the water supply: it was to drink alcohol with its antibacterial properties. Even though people did not know the reason, they knew that it was safe to drink beer (and later wine and spirits) than to drink water. Because alcohol is poisonous (ethanol) and additive, in order to survive, the chromosomes in the DNA of man had to adapt so that man could be genetically tolerant. As man evolved, his system was able to digest the alcohol. This genetic code is only found in the descendents of the town and city dwellers of early times, not the hunter-gatherers who did not live in towns.
It is fascinating to learn of the discovery of tea which became the de facto national beverage of England. The caffeine and tannic acid killed bacteria in the boiling and steeping process, warding off waterborne diseases. The effects were carried through the mother's milk, and fewer babies suffered from dysentery and child mortality rates increased.
The customary drinking of water from sources other than wells and streams came into practice in the mid-nineteenth century when it began to be piped into homes or cisterns. The water was piped from the river Thames which was also where all of London's waste was dumped. In 1894-95, more than 15,000 Londoners died of cholera from drinking water.
The megacities of our developing world are wrestling with the same problems of 19th century England, according to the author's research, and in 2010, the five largest cities on the planet will be Tokyo, Khaka, Mumbai, Sa

posted by MayDefarge on January 19, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

The cholera parts are fascinating...the other 50% is dull

As usual, Steven Johnson has serious issues editing himself. When on topic, this writing is engaging and witty...when off topic, he is pompous and dull. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson spends about 1/2 of all his books painfully off topic. Spend your money on "An American...
As usual, Steven Johnson has serious issues editing himself. When on topic, this writing is engaging and witty...when off topic, he is pompous and dull. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson spends about 1/2 of all his books painfully off topic. Spend your money on "An American Plague" by Jim Murphy instead.

posted by Lathis on January 5, 2012

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  • Posted July 4, 2011

    The Ghost Map -- Ups and Downs

    I would rate the first two-thirds of this book (actually I listened to the Audio CD) as a 4 to 5. It is very interesting from the medical and historical standpoint, on a subject one might think dull on first impression, presented in an entertaining way. However, the final third of the book, which I rate as a 1 to 2, degenerates into a boring jumble of socioeconomic/philosophical and political blabber, ranging from the benefits of the internet to city dwellers to nuclear terrorism, population control, global warming and even a random negative comment on "Intelligent Design". Perhaps the author needs to write a separate book covering these topics with better organization and editor. Save time and just read the initial medical/historical part!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2010

    why is this ebook more expensive than the paperback?

    why is this ebook more expensive than the paperback?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    Poorly written, interesting topic

    Perhaps I am spoiled by reading books of a simialr genre written by Erik Larsen but I found it difficult to stay interested in The Ghost Map. Although the information in this book was interesting, it was presented in a really frenetic way, jumoing from social implications, to medical advances, to moral obligation and back again. I found the poor transiton between the topics and eras to be distracting. Overall, I was disappointed because this book had a topic with potential for a great read but it just never got there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    The Ghost Map

    I learned so much from reading this book. However, the author got "stuck" in some areas and repeated and repeated the same info. At times, I wanted to close it up, never to return. But, I continued on. It was worth it, but it could have been 60 pages shorter.

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    Posted April 18, 2014

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    Posted June 3, 2010

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    Posted August 2, 2014

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    Posted January 10, 2011

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    Posted November 30, 2010

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    Posted December 7, 2013

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    Posted December 29, 2008

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