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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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Overview

A National Bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and an Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year

From Steven Johnson, the dynamic thinker routinely compared to James Gleick, Dava Sobel, and Malcolm Gladwell, The Ghost Map is a riveting page-turner about a real-life historical hero, Dr. John Snow. It's the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure — garbage removal, clean water, sewers — ...

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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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Overview

A National Bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and an Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year

From Steven Johnson, the dynamic thinker routinely compared to James Gleick, Dava Sobel, and Malcolm Gladwell, The Ghost Map is a riveting page-turner about a real-life historical hero, Dr. John Snow. It's the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure — garbage removal, clean water, sewers — necessary to support its rapidly expanding population, the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure. As the cholera outbreak takes hold, a physician and a local curate are spurred to action-and ultimately solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.

In a triumph of multidisciplinary thinking, Johnson illuminates the intertwined histories and interconnectedness of the spread of disease, contagion theory, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry, offering both a riveting history and a powerful explanation of how it has shaped the world we live in.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594482694
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/2/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 34,349
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson is the author of seven bestsellers, including Future Perfect, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You, and is the editor of the anthology The Innovator’s Cookbook. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites—most recently, outside.in—and writes for Time, Wired, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Marin County, California, with his wife and three sons.

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Table of Contents

The Ghost Map Preface

Monday, August 28
The Night-Soil Men

Saturday, September 2
Eyes Sunk, Lips Dark Blue

Sunday, September 3
The Investigator

Monday, September 4
That Is To Say, Jo Has Not Yet Died

Tuesday. September 5
All Smell Is Disease

Wednesday, September 6
Building The Case

Friday, September 8
The Pump Handle

Conclusion
The Ghost Map

Epilogue
Broad Street Revisited

Author's Note
Acknowledgments
Appendix: Notes on Further Reading
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 60 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(23)

4 Star

(17)

3 Star

(12)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 60 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 19, 2010

    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 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

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2012

    Science nerd here

    Loved this book. Self professed science and history nerd who also loves a good narrative. This book had all three. Great read, at times depressing as you learn of all the death. Then just as quickly its uplifting as you read of the triumph of science over darkness and superstition, and its own ignorance and arrogance.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2009

    Wonderful

    I love historical stories that aren't usually written about. Clearly this was well researched but it doesn't read as a typical, heavily researched book would normally. <BR/> Steven connects with the reader with well detailed accounts and historical figures so much so that you can easily set yourself back to 1854 London. <BR/> Simply wonderful.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2012

    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 Plague" by Jim Murphy instead.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 5, 2012

    Early epidemiology - fascinating!

    This is the story of a young clergyman and a young up-and-coming physician in London, who - for the most part - independently and almost unwittingly, forged a new science: epidemiology, in their tireless and fearless efforts to trace the source of a cholera outbreak in a poor part of town. Back then, the general belief (among the upper classes) was that disease of all kinds was airborne, and the poor were disproportionately afflicted because of their essential dirty, lowdown lives, which included (in the upper crust's minds anyway) their rotten morals.

    The doctor and the pastor look, from our age, like towering heros compared to the much less likeable know-it-all "important" people who ran things. This book has it all: villains, heros, sympathetic victims, breathless suspense. For anyone interested in the history of medicine and science, this is a must-read. I would have given it 5 stars except the author has somewhat the tendency to repeat himself in places. Otherwise I'm glad I bought it because I will be reading it again, down the line a ways.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 24, 2011

    Gripping

    If you are at all interested in a good mystery or a fantastic scientific revelation you should read this book, it's in depth, informative, and has a powerful impact on your mind. It's fun to see how John Snow is smarter than everyone else because he's the only one who can see the solution to the cholera epidemic.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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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 2, 2010

    Very Informative

    This was a great book with hiostorical value. A topic few of us know much about. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of the lives of "real people". Johnson describes the work conditions, living conditions and struggles of those who lived in poverty and described the prejudices against them by arrogant "upper class" citizens and politicans of the day. He clearly makes a case for the onset, spread and poor managment of this outbreak as being in large part due to a class driven society in which the conditions of the poor and the onslaught of this disease are easily disregarded and accepted until it begins to spread beyond the confines of the slums.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2007

    a good read

    I found this book to be very detailed and educating. The subject matter is not for a weak stomach: it's about cholera, a disease that is spread through human waste. But I thought it was fascinating to read the description on London at the time and then step by step through the detective process. I was mildy disapointed by the end though because it seemed to draw out and be a bit repetitive.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2013

    Public Health Nurse here. Follow Dr John Snow, the Father of Epi

    Public Health Nurse here. Follow Dr John Snow, the Father of Epidemiology, as he persists in his meticulous
    investigation of the source of deadly cholera epidemic of Victorian London. Were it not for his convictions, altruism and courage,
     thousands more have died. His &quot; I'm right, you're wrong and I'll prove it!&quot; attitude gave him fortitude in the face of scathing opposition from public leaders.
    The author reveals that Florence NIghtingale was no angle of mercy here. 
    There's something for everyone's interests: detective story, intrigue, health &amp; politics, sociology, scientific research, Victorian life, personal tradegies and 
    triumphs. 

    1 out of 1 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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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    Unexpected!

    The Ghost Map begins in the back streets of London just before the great cholera epidemic. In fact, had I not known better, I'd have guessed it to be a novel of Dickensian London as the author is an excellent storyteller. The details of the Victorian period are at once captivating and a little off-putting, but there is a method to the structure that soon becomes apparent and draws the listener deeply into the science of it all. That Alan Sklar is a wonderfully talented reader makes the experience doubly intriguing. I, for one, would have believed forever that a rabbit-warren city like New York would be a hotbed of disease. Johnson's assertion that cities, with their clean water and sewer systems built on the realizations that cholera brought to light, are actually the least likely venues for blights of this nature left me with a new perspective and new avenues to explore. Insight is the subject of this book and its finest feature.

    Scientists may already be familiar with the history of cholera and the simple, obvious cure that might have saved a city. The rest of us will just sit fascinated as the terror grows legs, is trapped and dissected and put, at last, to rest. Steven Johnson has brought avid readers a dramatic addition to private libraries everywhere.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2013

    The Ghost Map follows Dr. John Snow on his quest to discover the

    The Ghost Map follows Dr. John Snow on his quest to discover the cause of a terrible cholera outbreak in Victorian England. Johnson makes investigative epidemiology so interesting that I could almost see it dramatized (and fictionalized) into a TV show - people DO love their investigative TV! :) But that's beside the point, I guess. At the time of this outbreak in 1854, the popular theory for the spread of cholera was miasma - deathly air that carried disease. After a LOT of investigative footwork, Snow drew a map of the cholera outbreak, demonstrating that the pattern followed streets that led to a particular well (the Broad Street pump) rather than following a circular pattern you'd expect with the spread of bad air. This map, and the investigation leading up to its creation, revolutionized epidemiology. In fact, many consider Snow the &quot;first epidemiologist.&quot; 




    I really enjoyed this book. The writing was engaging (it had a few boring parts in the end when Johnson was describing the map in great detail - I think that may be a problem with listening to the audio book rather than actually reading it, though). The subject was fascinating. Sklar did a good job of narrating the book, and except for the very end with the description of the map, I was quite pleased with the book's audio version. If you have any interest in epidemiology, or the history of medicine, I highly recommend this book.

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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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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2012

    Ugh

    Boring...

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2012

    Fascinating

    Very interesting history of cholera, diseases like it, and how medical science changed with the addition of public health concerns.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012

    Connecting the Dots!

    This book has layers of interesting and meaningful information. Author Steven Johnson should be supported through the purchase of this book. He has done his work.

    Nook tips:
    1. Stiffen the power connector cord that inserts into your Noon, Nook Color or Nook Tablet by straightening the cable about 4 inches. Next, use a stiff rod such as a plastic, a coffee stirrer or split popsicle stick under the cord. Secure everything with scotch tape, plastic ties in such a way that you are able to grasp the cord and insert the end connector without bending the end connector in the process. A word of caution. If you use duct tape, and if you ever have to undo your construction, then you will have a gluey mess on the cord. I suppose you could split a soda straw and sleeve it over the power cord before taping.
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    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2011

    history!

    This does apply to real life issues!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2011

    A must read!

    I had to read this book for a sociology class and I must say it was one of the best books I read during college. Steven Johnson does a great job weaving together a story about scientific theory, plague,history, social welfare and politics.

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