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The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
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Book Club 2015 > June 2015 - Ghost Map

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message 1: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 5 stars

Betsy | 1660 comments Mod
For June 2015, we will be reading The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.

Please use this thread to post questions, comments, and reviews, at any time.

message 2: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 5 stars

Betsy | 1660 comments Mod
I read this book several years ago and really enjoyed it. Here is my review.

message 3: by Mochajunkie (new) - added it

Mochajunkie | 12 comments Just started this. I'm finding the culture of the scavengers fascinating. Anyone know books on that topic? I may want to read a bit more.

message 4: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 5 stars

Betsy | 1660 comments Mod
Anyone else reading this?

message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments My copy is still on hold at the library.

message 6: by Mochajunkie (last edited Jun 24, 2015 09:48AM) (new) - added it

Mochajunkie | 12 comments I'm almost done! Really liked it.

I should say more. The battle between ideas is constant in science. There are so many examples of the old and new schools of thought fighting it out. Are we any better at being open minded when a new concept is introduced? I was unaware of Whitehead and his work. How fortunate that he tried to prove Snow wrong, but was honest in his work and provided the additional evidence to support Snow's belief.

This case reminds me of Ignaz Semmelweis. He was able decrease mortality for childbed fever and yet so many doctors refused to believe they could be at fault for the deaths. Even today, hospital acquired infections is an issue and it has been very hard to train the health care professionals to take the right steps in preventing them. The latter example is a behavioral issue, not a shift in paradigm. But yet there is still the lingering self confidence that 'we' are right and couldn't possibly be at fault.

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 260 comments Does it count if I bought It, even if I haven't opened it? Sigh. My book stacks keep getting taller....

message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments I finally got my copy of this, but I also got an ebook copy & see that it has some maps. They're OK, but I didn't really miss them. He describes things well enough that an audio book is fine. In fact, his descriptions of life at the time are fantastic. The setup is a bit long, but it has to be. It's hard to imagine people living in those conditions (drinking out of open sewers!) with so little understanding of disease. It's incredible how far our common knowledge has come.

Well, in some cases, at any rate. I found the description of the newspaper ads & remedies incredibly sad because I see so many of them still promulgated today as pseudo-scientific cures. People are still buying supplements & using aroma therapy. We covered a lot of this when we read Bad Science, but it's just disheartening.

I got the ebook because wanted to go back over his explanation of how cholera mutated. I didn't really care for it because of the way he framed it as a 'desire'. That was OK at first, but later on he said something about a group intelligence that came across as pseudo science. Here's that offending paragraph.

It goes without saying that the bacteria are not in any way conscious of developing this strategy. The strategy evolves on its own, as the overall population balance of V. cholerae changes. In a low-transmission environment, lethal strains die out, and mild ones come to dominate the population. In high-transmission environments, the lethal strains quickly outnumber the mild ones. No single bacterium is aware of the cost-benefit analysis, but thanks to their amazing capacity for adaptation, they’re able to make the analysis as a group, each isolated life and death serving a kind of vote in a distributed microbial assembly. There is no consciousness in the lowly bacterium. But there is a kind of group intelligence nonetheless.

I still don't like framing this as 'a kind of group intelligence'. I think he could have used some statistical analysis to better effect or am I just being cranky?

(I spent much of the time I listened getting eaten by bugs & thorny plum trees. I also found one of my small Blue Spruces covered with bag worms. I hate having to use pesticides, but after 20 minutes of picking them off, there are still a bunch on there, so I don't have much choice. It was a healthy little tree & they're killing it, so I'm kind of grouchy.)

message 9: by Kikyosan (new)

Kikyosan | 64 comments I don't see any group intelligence here, just math and evolution. Epidemic dynamics are well described by simple systems of differential equation involving parasites, humans, virulence, mortality and so on. This equations often show fascinating dynamic balances, but very deterministic.

message 10: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments Good, glad I wasn't just being cranky. Interestingly enough, the first epidemic council had just been formed a few years before this outbreak & that's what a lot of the book is about - figuring out how to analyze it. John Snow was the pioneer.

At the halfway point & a bit beyond (I'm on part 5 of 7) it's been pretty boring, often a rehash & bunch of detail on what has already been covered in as much depth as I wanted to know. Far too much repetition as the author goes back to tie in the preacher's observations & the public health commissions. I understand that it is a problem to outline general trends & then go back into the specifics that caused them. Some repetition is inevitable. There are also multiple players, causes, & trends to follow, but he's covering the same ground & facts each time. It's getting very old.

It was interesting the way he points out how the cure for the miasma theory wound up causing more problems based on ignorance, yet ultimately led to Snow being able to gather the necessary statistical data to narrow down the actual cause, still without knowledge of bacteria. That had been discovered, but was ignored by everyone. It also led to being able to solve the problem.

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 364 comments It would have been 3.5 from me, before I hit the final chapter. I have never figured out what suitcase nuclear bombs have to do with how John Snow solved the problem of cholera in 19th century London.

message 12: by Tom (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tom | 2 comments Read it quite a few years ago. Absolutely hated the last chapter.

message 13: by Jim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments I finally finished, but only gave it 2 stars because it was far too long & repetitious, although the idea was pretty interesting. It's pretty awesome how statistical analysis was used in the understanding of disease before general knowledge of the existence bacteria. So, it certainly had its good moments, but I'd highly recommend reading it, not listening to it.

My review is here:

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