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Publisher's Summary

This is 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.

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and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated.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

Critic Reviews

"An illuminating and satisfying read." (Publishers Weekly) "A formidable gathering of small facts and big ideas." (New York Times Book Review)

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  • Overall


For all those interested in public health, biostatistics, epidemiology, polution, city planning, civil engineering, anthropology, sociology, industrial hygiene, & victorian history this is a wondrful way to spend about 6 hours. The reader is the books equal, both are impressive.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Two books-- one great, one not so

Most of the book is a fascinating mix of Victorian English social history and medical detective story. The last quarter changes gears dramatically to become a paean to urbanization and the power of mapmaking in sociological study. Pretty incongruous. Still, it's worth it-- especially if you need a shorter book.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

a entertaining polymath book

The Ghost Map is a great combination of learning about 19th century London, about epidemiology, biostatistics, public infrastructure. All this is wrapped up as a detective story. The narration & sound is outstanding. At its core, Ghost Map tells the story of a cholera outbreak in London in the 1850s, and how an enterprising doctor & minister figured out its source. The book does tend to stumble a bit after this story is told (which consumes more than 6 hours of the 8 hour book). In the final section, the author seeks to explicate the modern implications of what John Snow accomplished in his 1850s investigation. This last section is weak when it talks about computer mapping & electronic directories, but much stronger in its discussion of avian flu & contingency planning for same. I actually recommended the book to several people at my company who are deeply immersed in the flu planning. It should be a very readable antidote to the usual stuff they have to consume,

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

It was okay until the end

This audiobook is a somewhat interesting account of the deadliest out break of Cholera in London's storied history of outbreaks. It gives an interesting account of city life for lower class Londoners of the day and insights as to how the medical and scientific community of the day operated. It gets a bit dry after the first half, and the ending of the book leaves the subject almost entirely to speculate about the future threats of bioterrorism and nuclear warfare.

The "Conclusion" and "Epilogue" of this audiobook are full of proselytizing about the greatness and moral superiority of city dwellers who are apparently more intelligent, more tolerant, more environmentally conscious, just all around better people. This was written by an inhabitant of NYC who says he would only move after 50,000 people had died in a viral catastrophe, and then only reluctantly.

He also theorizes that cities are more likely to survive a long term shortage of oil, since people in cities don't drive cars as often. This is laughable. How does food get into the city? ON A TRUCK. Also ships. How does it get from the port? ON A TRUCK. What do trucks (and most ships) need to run? Oil and gas.

There is also a good bit of detail about how viruses work and how the microbial world operates, but this books insight is greatly damaged by implying that people who believe in God are superstitious obstructionists, since God cannot be proven, but people who are not willing to betray a peaceful and spacious existence outside of cities are an affront to mother Gaia, since Gaia is DEFINITELY real. No proof required.

Other than the political proselytizing and speculation, this is an okay book.

16 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Qbook
  • Betterton, MD, USA
  • 09-07-07

A Good History of Scienc Book

This is the story of Dr. John Snow and the development of modern epidemiology and germ theory. As a history of science read, this book is very good. It has lots of drama and reads like a mystery. I did learn about Snows research into anesthesia, something I didn't know about. Most of the book centers around the cholera outbreak in London and Snow's work to counter the generally accepted miasma theory. This is a great book for young researchers to see how prevailing paradigms can be completely wrong, yet generally accepted and even unquestioned.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Roger
  • South Orange, NJ, United States
  • 06-06-07


This is an analysis exceptionally rich in perspective. Johnson brings a multidisciplinary approach to the subject that is just as fascinating as the approach of Dr. Snow that Johnson recounts.

Johnson then uses similar breadth to analyze the impact on our time, and our near-to-medium term future, of the cholera outbreak and the lessons learned from it. While one may agree or disagree with his conclusions, they are solidly based and cogently argued.

To label his conclusions as socialist is to confuse socialism with sociology.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Alison
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 01-24-12

Should've Been Great

This book should have been interesting: the cholera epidemic in Victorian London, the birth of germ theory, the beginnings of epidemiology. Unfortunately the author couldn't keep his eye on the prize. The story was disjointed, and rambled and I had a hard time paying attention. Pity.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • David
  • Humble, TX, USA
  • 07-03-10

Interesting History and Urban Geography

This book is really a hidden gem for history buffs. It did a lot to paint a portrait of the lives of the common folks of London, and by extension, other major cities of the mid-19th century. I found its insights into developments in public sanitation and its impact on modern cities very interesting. It also does a good job of showing how early scientists struggled to win support for ideas that we now view as obvious. Also, the book is great for illustrating how seemingly average people can have a big impact on their communities and the world. Finally, one thing it does is make me happy that I don't have to clean any cess-pits. Enjoy.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Alex
  • 03-19-07

Great Stuff!

I was already familiar with most of the story, but I loved the detail and personalities. It is not for the squeamish since it deals with sewage systems and human waste, but if you can get over that it is wonderful. It is *not* incongruous to be talking about sociology and mapmaking since this a premier example of mapmaking for sociology and medical science. One of the best science books I have heard.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Reads like a thriller

Not just a story about a cholera outbreak, but a glimpse into life in mid-1800 London. While we walked the streets searching for the cause of the disease, we also learned little bits of side-bar worthy information such as the hierarchy of medical professionals at that time and the early use of anesthesia in surgery and childbirth. The story was over and I still had two hours left. The last two hours were really worth the book, in my opinion. It gave me a new perspective on modern city living.

Well written in a nice narrative style, it reads like a bio-terrorist thriller. It also prompted a very lively book group discussion.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful