The Ghost Map

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

Johnson, Steven

Book - 2006
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The Ghost Map
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and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated.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. Watch a QuickTime trailer for this book.

Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 2006
ISBN: 1594489254
Branch Call Number: 614.514 J69g 2006
Characteristics: 299 p. :,ill., maps ;,24 cm


From Library Staff

Please, please wash your hands after using the bathroom.

The story of the London Broad Street cholera epidemic of 1854, a deadly outbreak that decimated London's population in eight days, and two heroic figures: Reverend Henry Whitehead and Dr. John Snow, whose combined efforts in mapping the disease solved the mystery of how cholera spreads and create... Read More »

A chronicle of Victorian London's worst cholera outbreak traces the day-by-day efforts of Dr. John Snow, who put his own life on the line in his efforts to prove his previously dismissed contagion theory about how the epidemic was spreading.

A massive cholera epidemic rages in London. The how, why, and cultural history of it are explored in this fascinating read.

2010 Everybody Reads

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Feb 02, 2015
  • JCLGreggW rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

An absolutely riveting tale of a cholera outbreak in a London neighborhood in 1854 and, more importantly, the story of how science mapped, tracked, and used reasoning to find and eliminate the outbreak. So it's a true story that's part mystery, part history, part sociological, and ALL fascinating. Steven Johnson weaves a magical tale that will keep you turning pages well into the night. (And you'll know more about Victorian London sewage and water tables than you'll ever think you'll need.)

Dec 02, 2014
  • nftaussig rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Steven Johnson's book The Ghost Map describes the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, how John Snow traced it to contaminated water in the Broad Street Pump, and why his evidence that cholera was a water borne disease was dismissed at the time by the medical establishment. The medical history of these events is better described by Sandra Hempel in The Medical Detective. However, Johnson's interest is broader. He chose to describe this epidemic since he is interested in how the evidence gathered by Snow and subsequent events (the Great Stink of London, the building of London's sewer system) led the medical establishment of the time to discard its own ideas about disease transmission and accept Snow's hypothesis that cholera is a water borne disease. Johnson's interest in the epidemic also has to do with the fact that the sanitation measures introduced in response to the Great Stink of London eliminated cholera from the city and accelerated urban growth, which up to that point had been limited by disease in unsanitary cities (a point he does not make clear). The book is worth reading. However, Johnson does a poor job of tying the epilogue about the trend toward urbanism in with the rest of the book.

Oct 31, 2014
  • stewstealth rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

A good narrative on cholera outbreaks in London and the men who proposed and discovered that it was a water borne pathogen. This book shows how using disciplined science to overrule the current beliefs benefits all. Will be interesting in 50 years to see which current beliefs based on poor science are overthrown. Worth reading if you are interested.

Jun 27, 2014
  • SpringAltman rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

This book chronicles the 1854 outbreak of cholera in London and a few exceptional men determined to find the cause and how it changed the modern world

May 08, 2014
  • stalzerrita rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This book is fantastic! It's a great factual work describing both cholera itself and the day by day events of the epidemic and the decision-making processes after it. Even more, it shows a real example of how our pre-existing opinions can be hard to shake even when it matters so much.

Apr 20, 2014
  • Janice21383 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

A pointed example of mankind's battle against its greatest enemy, well-meaning bone-headedness, and also the story of John Snow, who has a strong claim to be humanity's greatest-ever benefactor, Ghost Map is a thoughtful book, damaged by clumsy writing. The author rambles, airs theories that while interesting, could be better supported, and drops into casual English, possibly with the aim of being "accessible": using "you" instead of "one", "sh*t" instead of "feces", and so on. But clearly, Johnson has it in him to do better. One more draft, with the help of a forthright copy editor, would have done the trick.

May 30, 2012
  • pegcart rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

I love how in telling a great story the author teaches me history and also relates it to the world we live in and future implications.

Oct 11, 2011

Kim 10/10/11

Sep 24, 2011
  • MeReneG rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Fascinating look at how the early days of public health and epidemiology research (and two of its pioneers) solved the 1854 London cholera epidemic -- and helped prevent future outbreaks. // Well worth the read, regardless of your favourite genre.

Feb 03, 2011
  • m2 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Terrific book about how a doctor and a priest determined the cause of London's cholera outbreaks in the summer of 1854 and how their discovery changed science -- and engineering! Very very readable. Historical, scientific and also a facinating human story.

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Jun 27, 2014
  • SpringAltman rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

SpringAltman thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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Jun 27, 2014
  • SpringAltman rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

A cholera outbreak in London causes many to look for the orgin and how to cure the world of this awful epidemic


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