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

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
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's review
Dec 15, 11

liked it
bookshelves: from-library, non-fiction, audiobook
Read from November 20 to December 14, 2011

This started out as an engrossing account of the filth and unhygienic conditions of Victorian London, where people literally piled shit in their basements, later to be removed by "nightsoil men" and a cemetery meant for 3000 bodies ended up containing 80,000 and gravediggers would jump up and down on the bodies in order to make room for more. It sounds insane today that anyone could live in those conditions and what's more...WTF did Victorian London SMELL like?

However, after about half the book the filler became obvious. This could have been a much shorter book if not for all the repetitive phrases, redundant information, and hammering against the miasma theory. He also spent too much time tying in epidemiology to possible future pandemic outbreaks. So what began as a fascinating book ended up becoming rather boring. So my suggestion is: fully read the first half, then start skimming, and then ignore the last 2 chapters altogether when the author jumps into his own theories about how living in densely populated cities, despite the drawbacks of disease and mass slaughter in a bio-terrorist attack, is still awesomely awesomer than living out in the country.

BTW, this book probably has the highest count of terms referring to shit ever written in the English language.
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Reading Progress

15.0% "Sure we think that medieval Europe must have been filthy and smelled bad, but the stench of 1840s London would have gagged a maggot..."
25.0% "Rhubarb was often prescribed as a purgative in Victorian times. I believe it. :D" 1 comment
25.0% "19th century surgeons prided themselves on the speed of their operations and one boasted that he could amputate at the shoulder in the time it took to take a pinch of snuff. The reason being that that the surgeon suffered as much torture as the patient and the speed was a mercy for both. Tell that to Fanny Burney who screamed throughout her mastectomy with the only anesthesia of a wine cordial!"
90.0% "The bad thing about audiobooks - can't actually SEE the "ghost map" :D"
03/11 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Karla (new)

Karla I did know that dog crap was used in tanneries, a fact which never ceases to gross me out.

Kerrie But hey, at least that stuff is good for something, but I feel for anybody who had that job.

message 3: by Karla (new)

Karla It does sound like Victorian England had their own caste system. So how far up (or far down) on the totem pole of "Untouchables" were the Nightsoil guys?

message 4: by Kerrie (last edited Dec 15, 2011 06:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kerrie They were pretty far down, along with the "mudlarks." :D

It would have been a terrific book if it had been shorter and tighter. It was 7 CDs long and could have been 5, easy. So if you want to get a vivid picture of Victorian London and the stupidity of the "leading minds" of the time when it came to disease, it's an absorbing read. Just skim the redundant parts and the final "conclusion" when he discussions the pros and cons of population density and disease (or terror attacks, since any book written after 9/11 has to incorporate that into the narrative!)

message 5: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Love your review so much I read it (your review) out loud to my son. Have tears in my eyes from laughing.

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