Kirsti'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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Sep 07, 08

bookshelves: history, nonfiction
Recommended for: history/psychology buffs
Read in September, 2008

WARNING: Do not read this review if you are squeamish. Or eating.

This book is about cholera, and as a result, the author uses an impressive number of words for shit--including excrement, ordure, human waste, and the Victorian euphemism night soil. And shit, of course.

Johnson explains that a key question in the development of civilization has always been "What are we going to do with all this shit?" This book dramatically improved my vocabulary regarding topics related to 1850s London. For instance:

miasmatist: someone who believes that bad-smelling air rather than germs or bacteria cause disease (Florence Nightingale was a miasmatist)

pure-finder: someone who finds dogshit and sells it to tanners to use in the leathermaking processs

toshers: trash-pickers

mudlarks: children who scavenge junk that toshers don't want

scavenger classes: pure-finders, toshers, mudlarks, and others in the recycling business

rice-water stool: don't ask

Johnson's previous books have been about how the mind works, so Ghost Map is really more about how people map information and adapt to innovations than it is a straightforward history of a particular epidemic. He writes that cholera is "a supremely dark chapter in the book of death" and points out how wrong it is that people are still dying of this preventable, treatable disease.

I learned that this is not a good audiobook to listen to when cooking dinner. However, it is a great audiobook to listen to when cleaning. My kitchen and bathrooms have never been more thoroughly disinfected.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Sandi (last edited Feb 26, 2009 08:50PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sandi I'm up to the epilogue and I have to say that I now know more about the history of poop disposal than I ever have in my life. Ultimately, this is a book about poo.


Kirsti And yet it is quite scholarly. Weird, huh?


Yesterday I finished the author's earlier book, Mind Wide Open.


message 3: by Joe (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joe LOL -- we live in a urban place that has its own waste system -- which our HOA is currently making managmement decisions. SO, this issue was more on my mind than I was comfortable.


Lisa Withrow I will read the book. I only hope I like it as much as the last paragraph of your review.


Kirsti Aww, thanks, Lisa!


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