Connie'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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Oct 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: europe, science, medicine, fall-2011, england
Read from November 02 to 08, 2011

In 1854, a cholera epidemic hit London. The city had experienced great population growth, but did not have the infrastructure for clean water and sewage removal.

At the time, the prevalent thought was that disease was spread by miasma (atmospheric bad air that smelled). So to get rid of the bad miasma, cesspools were drained into the Thames River, the source of the drinking water.

Dr John Snow, who thought cholera was transmitted by water, painstakenly researched which water pump was used by the cholera victims. Rev Henry Whitehead aided him in finding the source of the cholera epidemic. Eventually, an extensive modern sewer system was built in London.

The author also discussed public health concerns in developing countries with large cities. He wrote about the advantages of cities in terms of health care availability, culture, and lower energy use due to public transportation. However, a concentrated population is at a disadvantage if someone wants to wipe out many people with chemical or biological weapons, or a nuclear bomb. Epidemics or mutated viruses can also spread faster in areas of high population density.

The book kept my interest except in the middle where it seemed to get bogged down a bit with detail. The descriptions of cholera which kills with acute diarrhea did not bother me due to a background in healthcare, but might bother some people. The author brought together a wealth of information from many fields--history, science, information management, and medicine, especially public health.
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