The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

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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The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, Alan Sklar

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and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated.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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400102983
Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date: 11/13/2006
Edition description: Unabridged CD
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Steven Johnson is the national bestselling author of Everything Bad Is Good For You and Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, which was named as a finalist for the 2002 Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism.

Audie Award finalist Alan Sklar has narrated nearly two hundred audiobooks and has won several AudioFile Earphones Awards.

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Ghost Map 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
ctothep More than 1 year ago
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.
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.
Simply wonderful.
MayDefarge More than 1 year ago
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
threeoutside More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
FreakOfNature13 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 " I'm right, you're wrong and I'll prove it!" 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 & politics, sociology, scientific research, Victorian life, personal tradegies and  triumphs. 
thoughtful More than 1 year ago
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!
JMFriedman More than 1 year ago
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.
NapoleonS 11 months ago
In the non-fiction book “The Ghost Map,” the author, Steven Johnson, tells the story of one of England’s most tragic epidemic. In 1854, an outbreak of the lethal disease cholera had spread throughout the London district of Soho. Due to the poor maintenance of London’s sewage systems and lack of clean water, the disease was able to infect humans right under their nose. A physician named Dr. John Snow tackles the disease head first and goes straight to the source of the disease. In order to find where and how the disease is spreading, Dr. Snow collect all of the missing pieces and tries to solve the mystery of the spread of cholera in Soho. In this story, Johnson narrates the steps Dr. Snow had to take in order to solve the problem and how he soon became to “undercover hero” of Soho. Johnson creatively organized the book chronologically using dates instead of chapter numbers. My knowledge on how and when scenes were happening was much clearer due to this type of layout. He leaves the reader on the edge of their seat wondering what would happen next and how the problem was solved. This book executes and tells the story of the outbreak very neatly and straight-forward. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in diseases, London, or even historical non-fiction books in general.
Patito_de_Hule More than 1 year ago
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 "first epidemiologist."  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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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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