The Ghost Map

The Ghost Map : A Street, an Epidemic and the Two Men Who Battled to Save Victorian London

3.91 (27,673 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

At 6am on 28 August 1854, the city of London struggled to sleep at the end of an oppressively hot summer. But at 40 Broad Street, Soho, Sarah Lewis was awake tending to her feverish baby girl. As she threw a used bucket of water into the cesspool at the front of her lodgings, it marked the start of a cholera epidemic that would consume 50,000 lives in England and Wales - and become a battle between man and microbe unlike any other. Steven Johnson takes us day by day through what happened and re-creates a London full of dust heaps, furnaces and slaughterhouses; where a ghost class of bone-pickers, rag gatherers, dredger men and mud-larks scavenged off waste; where families were crammed into tiny rooms and cartloads of bodies wheeled down the streets. And at the heart of the story is Doctor John Snow: vegetarian, teetotaller, anaesthesiologist and Soho resident, whose use of maps to prove that cholera was spread by water - and not borne on the air as most believed - would bring him into conflict with the entire medical establishment, but ultimately defeat his era's greatest killer. Steven Johnson interweaves this extraordinary story with a wealth of ideas about how cities work, ecosystems thrive and cultures connect. He argues that, with half the planet's population set to be urban, today's megacities could soon be wrestling with the same problems as John Snow and that, just as in 1854, science could be our salvation.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 320 pages
  • 148 x 216 x 30mm | 530g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • ALLEN LANE
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Illustrations, maps, ports.
  • 0713999748
  • 9780713999747
  • 1,511,004

Review Text

An intrepid doctor and an enlightened minister pursue a cholera outbreak to its lair in 1850s London.It's in the water, not the air. This was the discovery that young Dr. John Snow presented to skeptical public-health officials, who were committed to the prevailing, centuries-old theory that foul odors carry disease. As Johnson (Everything Bad Is Good for You, 2005, etc.) ably shows, London in 1854 was indeed a stinky city containing much fecal matter from people and animals, as well as waste from manufacturers. It was the waste from a single infected infant, however, that got into the water supply near the popular Broad Street pump in Soho and empowered Vibrio cholerae to kill hundreds. Johnson recounts how Dr. Snow and "affable clergyman" Henry Whitehead walked the streets, first independently and then in concert, to determine who was dying, who was surviving-and where. Snow's map charting the dimensions of the outbreak, avers Johnson, did not have an immediate effect (other than convincing officials to remove the pump handle, a decision that saved hundreds, maybe thousands), but it has had an enduring one. Science, not superstition, battled a disease, and in the ensuing years, public officials took steps to prevent another outbreak by building the vast sewer system that continues to function in London. In addition to telling the story of the outbreak, Johnson offers mini-lessons on related topics: how cholera kills, how Victorian London dealt with its messes, how and why people cling to false theories. He devotes the final 70 pages to a paean to cities and an assessment of the principal threats to their continuation. He notes that metropolises in developing countries face enormous public-health problems, and he worries about terrorists armed with weaponized viruses and/or nuclear weapons.Lively and educative. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Author information

Steven Johnson is the author of the acclaimed books Everything Bad is Good for You (described as 'a must read' by Mark Thompson, head of the BBC), Mind Wide Open, Emergence and Interface Culture. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, New Yorker, Nation and Harper's, as well as the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He writes the monthly 'emerging technology' column for Discover magazine, and is a Contributing Editor to Wired. The co-founder of the award-winning websites FEED and Plastic.com, Johnson teaches at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and has degrees in Semiotics and English Literature from Brown and Columbia universities. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.Steven Johnson hosts a web log at www.stevenberlinjohnson.comshow more

Rating details

27,673 ratings
3.91 out of 5 stars
5 31% (8,473)
4 39% (10,856)
3 23% (6,302)
2 5% (1,488)
1 2% (554)
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