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 two million people packed into a 10-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and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated.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.
From the dynamic thinker routinely compared to Malcolm Gladwell, E.O. Wilson, and James Gleick, The Ghost Map is a riveting story with a real-life historical hero. It brilliantly illuminates the intertwined histories of the spread of viruses, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry. These are topics that have long obsessed Johnson, and The Ghost Map is a true triumph of the kind of multidisciplinary thinking for which he's become famous. This is 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.
©2006 Steven Johnson; (P)2006 Tantor Media Inc.
"An illuminating and satisfying read." (Publishers Weekly)
"A formidable gathering of small facts and big ideas." (New York Times Book Review)
Diseases can be so interesting. This book takes you on a trip back to Victorian London where people dumped crap in their basements, threw buckets of it out the window and let it sit around in open cesspools.
The story starts with a sick baby's soiled diapers and goes on to describe how Baby Lewis' waste infected water from the Broad Street Pump and killed an enormous amount of people in eight days. Dr. John Snow and the Rev. Henry Whitehead started on two separate paths to solve the mystery as to what was killing the population and ended up combining their efforts to produce a treatise on the dangers of contaminated water.
I loved the description of people who made their living collecting poo and how this process is good for society in general. The most boring part was when the author recited every question that was listed in the Board of Public Health questionnaire.
The last chapter is dedicated to what the cholera outbreak in London has to do with us now and for our future. That part is very scary.
This tale of John Snow, a researcher who sought the cause of a massive and lethal outbreak of what would ultimately be known as Cholera, in 1850s England, does a fine job of illustrating life and the habits that led to the outbreak, as well as the fear and helplessness of people who lived whilst the scourge was underway. Snow's dogged efforts to locate the origins and "map" the outbreak, as well as his frustrations with public officials, who were slow to move away from erroneous, but more accepted, ideas about the source of cholera, have shaped public health policies for growing cities since. He also helped devise early anesthesia at a time when surgeons worked without it. Given a 4 (4.5 really) for the story because the conclusion gets a bit long. Still, this work is very interesting and we all owe much to Mr. Snow, especially when we sip a refreshing glass of water from the tap.
I loved that Mr. Snow's work was validated by other scientists. It also was pretty amazing to see someone focus so fully on stopping this disease.
Teacher, permaculture designer, master gardener, and systemes thinker.
After listening to Steven's 'Where Good Ideas Come From', I knew that I had to hear more; 'The Ghost Map' did not disappoint.
Reading like a novel, this masterpiece of investigative story telling chronicles life in 19th century London and the brilliant and serendipitous coming together of the ideas needed to combat cholera.
I absolutely love Steven's analogy of the city as an ecosystem and his overarching description of how very conditions that lead to the pandemic of1854 were the very conditions that solved it.
Excellent narration by Alan Sklar; I know that narration can make or break an audiobook but I would go so far as to say that I can't imagine an audiobook that wouldn't be made better by this guy's narration.
The Ghost Map is a fascinating account of the appalling conditions of mid-nineteenth century London and of an early exercise in medical detective work. The initial chapters are not for the squeamish, and are a poor choice for listening while eating lunch. They concern, in a word, feces -- of various species (sorry, I couldn't resist the rhyme) although chiefly human.
I think the beginning of the book was intended to give modern readers a healthy shock. (Fans of steampunk, for example, might do well to be reminded that the nineteenth century was not only the Age of Brass and Steam, but also of Filth and Stink -- or not, because steampunk is fantasy anyway. But I digress.) Johnson has interesting insights on how modernization and urbanization fostered disease. I'm not particularly a student of this era, so it was informative to me.
The later chapters of the book are less nauseating than the beginning, although the book is, from beginning to end, about a disease of the digestive tract. (See previous caution about listening and lunch.)
After finishing the book, I find that I have very little to say about the reader, which I think is a good thing. The reader enabled me to enjoy the book without getting in the way. This isn't perhaps the sort of glowing accolade that the reader would want to print out and tape onto his refrigerator or mail to his mother, but I consider it a compliment.
I do not always want perfect radio voices reading to me, but this one took some time to get used to. The narrator has a very unique voice, and I'm not sure why they picked him. He does a good job, just in an extreme baritone with a dramatic murder-mystery show type promo voice. It doesn't sound real. I love this author, he hops about and makes great connections. His writing reminds me of a fun show I used to watch on TV called "Connections" actually. That breaks up the story and takes you on wonderful asides. Its been a bit, but I remember loving the story of Doctor Snow and the discovery here of waterborn illnesses is fascinating, and learning how it led to new city planning and other innovations. This is my least favorite by this author, however. Which is not exactly a compliment, but not a slight either. He just writes great books. It might rate higher if not for the intensity of the vocals.
Biology, history and sociology....cartography and epidemiology, too.
The Hot Zone, a real mystery that involved you like a mystery novel.
No, yoko much factual information to grasp without pondering.
Don't listen to this in a public place, like the train station, or people will think you crazy -- since this narrative will drive you to shout "Holy COW!" and "Oh my GOD, are you KIDDING me?!" repeatedly. Don't listen to it during lunch, unless you have a seriously strong stomach.
If you enjoyed the likes of Guns, Germs, and Steel, you will probably love The Ghost Map. It's shorter, quite a bit lighter, but is absolutely packed with jaw dropping details about Victorian London. If you enjoy Arthur Conan Doyle, you will likely love The Ghost Map, which reads like a Sherlock Holmes mystery in which Dr. Watson does the sleuthing while Holmes is on holiday.
Johnson does a fantastic job of weaving a trainload of London history, sociology, and medical history into a narrative that feels more like a novel.
The only criticism I have is that the last section feels a little soap-boxy, but it's a minor fault -- the sociological issues are sufficiently intriguing.
as an engineer i like data. i thoroughly enjoyed the transition from anecdotal story into the presentation of data to prove the root cause of Cholera and how to prevent further transmission.
As usual, Alan Sklar is up to the task of reading a scientifically intriguing text. His tone keeps you engaged as he seems to be on the edge of his seat as you are.
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