David'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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Nov 11, 07

really liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2007
Read in November, 2007

This was an excellent account of the (successful) efforts of two men, John Snow and Henry Whitehead, to understand the means by which cholera is transmitted, following an 1854 outbreak in London's Soho district. The "ghost map" constructed by Snow, and the identification of the index case by Whitehead, were eventually successful in displacing the prevailing "miasma theory" by establishing linkage beyond reasonable doubt to contamination at a single water pump (the Broad Street pump).

Johnson does an excellent job of providing a tightly-constructed account of the events during, and immediately following, the week when the epidemic was at its height. He is also very effective in placing the two men's discovery in historical context, and in giving a broader perspective on its significance.

An absorbing account of a milestone in epidemiology, at a level of scholarship that far surpasses that of the other work by this author that I had read "Everything Bad is Good for You".

I highly recommend this book. Likely to be of most interest to readers who enjoy history, or with an interest in epidemiology or urban development.
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Melissa Dee I really enjoyed this book, but had a couple of niggles.

The first niggle was due to one or two points in the book tailored to a US audience, despite being a book about London. For example, when reading this the word "even" in the following sentence seems superfluous and slightly irritating: "In 1829 the disease began to spread in earnest, sweeping through Asia, Russia, even the United States."

Picky, I know, but it's the little things which can make or break your enjoyment of a book.

The second niggle was that although he has clearly researched the book very well, he doesn't give references for everything he writes. Having read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher just before this, which gives a very clear indication of the sources used throughout and what is speculation, this book just didn't seem to have the same rigour.

But, apart from those minor points, I did enjoy this book and found it very interesting.


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