Jamilla Rice'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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May 12, 12

Read in January, 2008

I was surprised at how interesting a read it was. Who would have thought that cholera and the discovery of the waterborne origins of microbial epidemics would be so engrossing? Steven Johnson's writing is what definitely makes this book. I thought that I was pretty good at analogies/comparisons, but he trumps all others, especially with the following: "A virus can swap genes with other viruses willingly. Imagine a brunette waking up one morning with a shock of red hair, after working side by side with a redheaded colleague for a year. One day the genes for red hair just happened to jump across the cubicle and express themselves in a new body." So that's how microbial DNA is so much different than ours, and why the recent avian and "swine" flu scares are indeed so scary. Don’t you wish he taught you biology in high school?

The book is also a wonderful homage to urban living, mixing the author's anecdotal personal stories with current events, then narrating the events surrounding London's mid-19th century sanitation foibles, resulting in several “a-ha” moments throughout my reading.

Favorite/Memorable Quotes:
"It wasn't just mankind that was being unified; it was mankind's small intestine." (42)
"it could take eukaryotic organisms a million years to adjust to a change on a worldwide scale that bacteria can accommodate in a few years" (43)
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Jahmila H I agree that it was so fascinating because of Johnson's explanations. The topic and science of the outbreak would become difficult to understand at times but when he used analogies like "A virus can swap genes with other viruses willingly. Imagine a brunette waking up one morning with a shock of red hair, after working side by side with a redheaded colleague for a year. One day the genes for red hair just happened to jump across the cubicle and express themselves in a new body." you could easily understand. He made sure to relate what he was trying to explain to mundane activities. He also incorporated other things happening around London at the time. It was very factual but yet still understanable.


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