The Ghost Map
The Ghost Map

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From the dynamic thinker routinely compared to Malcolm Gladwell, E. O. Wilson, and James Gleick, The Ghost Map is a riveting page-turner with a real-life historical hero that brilliantly illuminates the intertwined histories of the spread of viruses, rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry. These are topics that have long obsessed Steven Johnson, and The Ghost Map is a true triumph of the kind of multidisciplinary thinking for which he's become famous-a book that, like the work of Jared Diamond, presents both vivid history and a powerful and provocative explanation of what it means for the world we live in.

The Ghost Map takes place in the summer of 1854. A devastating cholera outbreak seizes London just as it is emerging as a modern city: more than 2 million people packed into a ten-mile circumference, a hub of travel and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated. Dr. John Snow-whose ideas about contagion had been dismissed by the scientific community-is spurred to intense action when the people in his neighborhood begin dying.

With enthralling suspense, Johnson chronicles Snow's day-by-day efforts, as he risks his own life to prove how the epidemic is being spread.

When he creates the map that traces the pattern of outbreak back to its source, Dr. Snow didn't just solve the most pressing medical riddle of his time. He ultimately established a precedent for the way modern city-dwellers, city planners, physicians, and public officials think about the spread of disease and the development of the modern urban environment.

The Ghost Map is an endlessly compelling and utterly gripping account of that London summer of 1854, from the microbial level to the macrourban-theory level-including, most important, the human level.

Customer Reviews:

  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic
    Excellently researched and written. Informative, yet presented in such a way as to engage the reader as if he/she were reading a fictive mystery. I highly recommend this book to all who enjoy narrative sociology, urban studies, medical history, Victorian London or public health....more info
  • Historically detailed page turner
    Despite this book's very serious historical subject, it is a real page turner and something that anyone with an interest in history could enjoy. As a historian, I thought the book was fascinating, well-researched and well-written, but it has broad appeal and should be a comfortable read for anyone....more info
  • Ghost Map: Well Written History
    I enjoy well written history and thoughtful commentary on the links between history and our contemporary world. Johnson provides both in this highly readable and thoughtful text. The main storyline is a cholera outbreak in 19th century London and the people who discovered its source despite medical scientific thinking of the time. But Johnson does so much more with this book. It is also a story of the city itself and the needs engendered by masses of humans living in one place -- clean water, waste disposal, health care, etc. In the epilogue, Johnson compares the stunning death rate of the London cholera outbreak to 9/11 and points out the great vulberability that the very strength of cities provokes. A very satisfying read....more info
  • more about cities than disease
    Steven Johnson has put together an excellent book on the past and future of cities and how they react to self created stresses.

    Just a few minor quibbles. Johnson spends a bit of time explaining how visceral is the sense of smell in order to explain the tenacity of the miasma theory. As he explains it, the sense of smell arises from a very ancient part of the brain. However, he then associates our reactions to particular human situations in our ancestry, just-so stories involving ancestors wandering the African savannah. Considering the ancient nature of the part of the brain, it should be a story about our ancestor the fish.

    At anothe point, he declares that humans have world class vision, because our ancestors used to be nocturnal mammals. The nocturnal part is probably right, but that period in our evolution cost us the ability to see into the ultraviolet, as many birds and insects can. Daylight predators such as hawks have much better vision than we do.

    Johnson spends a great deal of energy describing the importance of John Snow's cholera map, it even gives the book its name. As Johnson points out, the second version of the map is the one with the Voronoi diagram superimposed over the street map and death bars, and is the great leap in graphic storytelling. How strange, therefore, that this version of the map never appears in the book! Instead, an earlier version without the Voronoi boundary appears once as a chapter head illustration, and frequently as a muddy, bled to the edge graphic device.

    This is the books greatest fault. For a book with a great many quotes, it has very few pictures. For a book about the power of visual displays, it fails utterly in its own use of them....more info
  • Fascinating Topic, But Please - GET THIS GUY AN EDITOR!
    Parts of this book are truly brilliant. This is a fascinating topic - Dr. Snow and Rev. Whitehead working together to solve London's next-to-last cholera epidemic. The author does a credible job un-bunking much of the mythology that has sprung up around this tale. Dr. Snow, for example, had developed his water-borne theory of cholera transmission long before the Broad Street epidemic began; and the epidemic was waning before the pump handle was removed. Yet Snow's actions, and history's evaluation of it through the years, was the beginning of the end for the miasma theory of disease.

    But this book should have been 40 or 50% of the length that it is. The author commits what I consider nearly an unpardonable sin, and as a result when you finish this book you can barely remember what the initial topic was: Johnson has obviously done a lot of serious research and thinking about population theory, the growth of cities, and other related topics. But rather than WRITE ANOTHER BOOK about those things, he tells the epidemic story and then uses a very thin reed to link his ideas in those areas to the epidemic.

    Why Johnson's editors let him get away with this is beyond me. I would have given this book 5 stars if it was properly edited, but as a result it barely gets 3 from me. ...more info
  • Excellent Book Covering the History of John Snow and the Transmission of Cholera
    I am a primary care physician using maps to study patterns of health care access in my community. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this recount of the history a community learning how to promote public health in a rapidly growing population center. The lessons learned and the example set by John Snow and others as they uncovered the mysteries of how diseases were transmitted is a fascinating tale and I could not put the book down until I reached the last page.

    I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in public health, epidemiology, geography, and/or community-based research....more info
  • great
    This is an exhaustive telling of John Snow and companies great detective work. This book is a truly remarkable account of dedication and perseverance. Anyone with an interest in history as well as public health and or medicine would enjoy this book. There are a few places where the detail is a bit much and makes for some slow reading, but in the end it enhances the story overall, giving the reader a picture of London in the 1800's....more info
  • love/hate of book
    I enjoyed the basic story but he goes on and on at points about things that got rather boring. Explaining the map without showing the map did not help a lot. I still would have given it three or four stars until the last chapter of the book where he blathers on about his pet issues which I didn't think really applied to the story. He goes on and on with his love of big cities acting as if they are all wonderful with no problems. When he started in on how if we all lived in a huge city the environment would be better off I was ready to toss the book in the trash. (He even feels Portland, Oregon is too small...I grew up in Portland and feel it is way too big!) His point should have been that even today scientists who go against the current belief get shut out but he didn't make that connection at all with current science. That would have made a much better conclusion than that we all need to move to giant cities!...more info
  • Interesting, Fascinating & a Great Read!!
    Johnson's book is a fascinating approach to a relatively obscure historical event, yet it's so engaging & very readable. Johnson has the ability to take technical jargon & make it accessible to everyone. After a well-researched analysis of the London cholera epidemic of 1854, Johnson then closes the book by linking the aftermath of the epidemic to today's increasingly precarious environmental situation. Anyone interested in history, engineering, public health and the environment would love this book. I highly recommend it!...more info
  • Can We See the Actual Map?
    Steven Johnson's book, The Ghost Map, tells the story of how a doctor, John Snow, and a local minister, Henry Whitehead, worked together to combat an outbreak of cholera in their London neighborhood. They did so by conducting on the spot investigation which allowed them to demonstrate that the cholera was being transmitted through the water supply at the Broad Street pump. This demonstration was illustrated through the famous "ghost map" that showed the cluster of illness around the pump which, in turn, famously, led to the removal of the pump handle to combat the outbreak.

    Mr. Johnson does a fair job of telling this story. The strength of his telling lies in how he reminds us how far our understanding of disease has come in the past couple centuries. In an era where disease is so much better controlled through hygiene and treatment, it is so easy to forget how diseases like cholera, plague and smallpox would periodically devastate populations--diseases that are now essentially unknown in the developed world.

    Yet, in the summer of 1854, the best medical authorities still believed that cholera was an effect of "miasma," the inhalation of foul odors carried through the air. Scientific rigor was becoming part of medicine by this time, however, and Dr. Snow had hypothesized some years before this outbreak that cholera was carried in the water supply. What he was lacking was proof, which the outbreak of 1854 gave him the opportunity to try to supply. And supply his proof he did, despite the fact that it would be some time before his conclusions were accepted even in the face of very convincing evidence, like the "ghost map."

    Mr. Johnson relates these pieces of the story very well. What he does less well is bring these people vividly to life. Only Dr. Snow really seems to be fully three-dimensional in Johnson's story. Whitehead, Farr, Chadwick and others flit around the edges of this story like so many ghosts and never seem to be full-bodied people. It was also disappointing that, despite the title, we are not provided with a picture or color reproduction of this revolutionary map. Being able to examine the actual map would have been a nice addition to the text.

    Still, there is much of value here. Despite some bells and whistles that would have added energy to the prose, the story of disease and science takes center stage in this book. It is a nice reminder of the good science can do and the struggle that scientists often have to undergo to have new ideas break through....more info
  • Fallacious Reasoning Can Be Deadly
    Cholera devastates cities, a lethal enemy that has killed countless millions. The Ghost Map takes us to 1854 when a cholera epidemic ravaged London's Soho district, claiming more than six hundred lives. The death toll would certainly have been higher had not many anxious citizens fled.

    The dominant epidemiological paradigm of the day designated cholera an airborne disease, the product of foul air associated with overflowing cesspools and unsanitary living conditions. For several years prior to the outbreak, Dr. John Snow, a renown anesthesiologist, suspected the airborne theory was wrong. When the fatalities in Soho began to multiply, he courageously entered the area to test an alternative explanation. By a process of rigorous neighborhood interviews, he developed a map of the district that showed where fatalities occurred (see the map below), visually demonstrating a pattern that linked the disease to a water pump on Broad Street.

    Many members of the medical establishment were critical, even hostile, to Snow's waterborne theory. At first, Snow found no support from the Rev. Henry Whitehead, an Anglican clergyman who indefatigably ministered to the sick and dying, while at the same time, undertaking his own investigations into the causes of the disease. As he ministered to afflicted families, he determined that most, if not all, had drunk from the Broad Street pump. His careful study of Snow's research and his own intimate knowledge of the neighborhood led him to embrace the waterborne theory, and, through an exhaustive study of death records, determine the index case of the outbreak.

    The efforts of Snow and Whitehead were sufficient to persuade the local council to remove the pump.

    Over a period of years the entire medical and public health establishment were won over to Snow's theory, and through one of the remarkable engineering feats of history, London constructed a sewer system, which along with the simple precaution of boiling suspect water, brought an end to cholera epidemics in the city.

    Problem solvers will love this book. Refusing to submit to the reigning cholera model, two men fought not only the disease but public health officials who were nearly blind to contrary evidence. Correlation was often confused with causation. For example, it was argued that cholera seldom strikes people living on a hill because the air is cleaner at higher altitudes. In fact, people on hillsides were less likely to frequent water supplies contaminated by human waste. At one point, convinced that cholera was spread by the bad air emerging from cesspools, the city shut down thousands of cesspools, and arranged a disposal system that dumped human waste directly into the Thames River, London's source of drinking water. The author points out that modern bio-terrorists could not have concocted a more efficient plan for spreading the disease.

    The book reminds me how easy it is to examine a problem, collect facts, and then assign causation where it doesn't belong. The outcome of fallacious reasoning can be costly, even deadly....more info
  • Scientific research at its best
    This is wonderful account of scientific research on 19th century conducted not with high tech instruments but with an open and inquisitive mind and ground work. It eventually traces the cause of cholera to water when all the medics were sure at that time that diseases like this were transmitted by air in the form of foul smells. What is really amazing is that the works of Dr. Snow and Reverend Whitehead points to water as the source but they did not have any means to identify or propose what was wrong in the water. The cholera bacteria was identified several decades later. But still by careful observations, statistics, lots of interviews and applied logic they identified the contaminated water form a particular well was the cause.

    I recommend this book to whoever is interested in following step by a step a very scientific reasoning....more info
  • Classic and Great Example for Spatial Data Mining
    This is a must-have book for spatial data miners. The closing of pumps is the result of a very fundamental operation in data mining called clustering. The page 140 of the book actually uses the term cluster. Well, the detailed algorithms is more complicated in clustering.The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
    Baris...more info
  • Incredibly Compelling!
    The Ghost Nap is superbly written to keep the readers interest while sharing the story of a crucial medical breakthrough. The 1854 colera outbreak and subsequent demise led to a cutting edge thinking process. Unfortunately, most leaders of the time did not subscribe to Dr Snows thinking, and tried to ignore his theories of the outbreak. In doing so, the outbreak raged on. However, enlightenment to scientific theory eventually won out thanks to a hanful of men who developed ingenious ways to prove their theories. These ingenious devices and theories are the core of Epidmiology today. We would still be in the disease ridden Victorian age if it were not for the tenacity of these men.

    Excellent read!...more info
  • Exceptional Book on Early Cholera Research and Prevention
    This is one of those books that I have considered reading many times. I finally decided to read it after listening to the author speak at a conference. In fact, I took the time to have a quick chat with him after his remarks. If you get the chance, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to hear him speak as he has an excellent topic and wonderful stage presence.

    Chapter 1: The Night-Soil Men
    Chapter 2: Eyes Sunk, Lips Dark Blue
    Chapter 3: The Investigation
    Chapter 4: That Is To Say, Jo Has Not Yet Died
    Chapter 5: All Smell Is Disease
    Chapter 6: Building the Case
    Chapter 7: The Pump Handle
    Chapter 8: The Ghost Map
    Epilogue; Broad Street Revisited

    Steven Johnson's book, The Ghost Map, tells the story of a cholera outbreak, Dr. John Snow, clergyman Henry Whitehead, and the Soho area of London in 1854. At the time, London was the largest city in the world, with a population of about 2.4 million. The Soho area was one of the most densely populated, with 432 people per acre. Steven Johnson reports that Manhattan, today, only has about 100 people per acre. With that many people packed into a few city blocks, disease could run rampant through the area. And so it did. One evening, a woman throws her sick baby's excrement into the cesspool in the basement of their building. With that normal act, she unleashes the worst outbreak of cholera in London's history. John Snow, a local but prominent doctor, starts to investigate the outbreak, using his theory that it is transmitted through the water. Unknown to him, Henry Whitehead, a clergyman in a local parish, is also tracking down the cause of cholera, but he is basing his investigation using the conventional thought that cholera is transmitted through "miasma" (bad smells).

    Dr. Snow, while a very famous doctor (he advanced the use of ether and chloroform as anesthetics, among other things) was not a resident of Soho. Henry Whitehead lived in and knew almost everyone in Soho, as he routinely made his rounds of the neighborhood, in addition to seeing the residents in his church. While they came from different backgrounds and held opposing views on cholera, they met and pooled their knowledge. Whitehead came around to backing Snow's theory that cholera was waterborne. John Snow is credited with creating a groundbreaking map, the Ghost Map, based on his research. After their work together, Whitehead and Snow became very good friends.

    Steven Johnson takes the reader on a fascinating tour of 1850's London. He explains the city, the people, and the prevailing water policies of most large cities at the time. As the story centers on Dr. Snow and Henry Whitehead, he provides you with enough background on those two people that you have an excellent understanding of how they came to that one section of London to combat one of the worse urban outbreaks of cholera. I enjoyed his descriptions of the work and home life, not only in Soho, but also in greater London. And he kept the reader interested in the research that John Snow was undertaking, as it was important, innovative work. While the majority of the book is dedicated to a specific cholera outbreak, the last part of the book focuses on the modern city and the issues that it faces. I thought that a lot of that part was good, but it seemed a little out of place with the rest. It felt as though Johnson was stretching to make a point. I understood where he was trying to go, but I couldn't make a connection. That being said, I still think that this is a great book....more info
  • Like fiction
    Steven Johnson gets draw a clasical Snow's Story like a fiction but anchored to the reality throught tree "dramatic lines":

    1. The comming of a epidemiology like a new science.

    2. The borning of geographic inference. How we can infer what happen in the micro world trough the macro world.

    3. A case of honestity betwen ancient believes performer and a science man.

    Those tree treadsare weaved by the story with presence of tautness moments and characters take the good side or de bad side in diferent moments.

    The story is simple but well workred. A terrific dreadful sillnes apears in London, a bunch of corpses flood the streets. Nothing knows that to do. Church performer says that the gulty is the miasma. Miasma is a very strange conccept that does not means although nothing, buy can be seen like a phantom that travels by air taking amay litle pieces of sickness. The miasma can be produced by a god desicion. Who say that is Henry Whithead whose name would look have been taked from a fiction.

    An anestesiologist apears in scene. He beginings to arrange the geografic information ponting each one of the dies, one point in the died person home. This hero is John Snow whose name looks like from fiction too.

    Both persons debate about. But the stronger is the religious man. Trhough the worked maps, Snow get convince to Whitehead. Whitehead convince easely to goverment. And goverment close the water bombs getting in this way the victory over siknes the other character named cholera.

    Is a good book but the map that present is just a part of the complet work. This book is good for teacheing, for enterteinement and for general culture too....more info
  • Good in parts, but with lots of filler
    Steven Johnson has written a readable account of the 1854 London cholera epidemic, arrested by the removal at John Snow's behest of the Broad Street pump handle, and of Snow's work during the epidemic which led to the recognition of cholera as a waterborne illness. He does a good (if questionably accurate) job of placing the reader in the scene of mid-nineteenth century London, of recreating the squalor and filth that helped lead to the cholera outbreak, and his descriptions of the mudlarks and other "refuse scavengers" of the time are lively and interesting. He does a good job of discussing concerns of the time that seem strange to modern readers--such as, Can a city of 2 million actually even exist? He also devotes a considerable amount of time to discussing the then-prevalent "miasma" theory of disease and how it got in the way of accepting Snow's work demonstrating that the source of the contamination was the Broad Street pump. His retracing of Snow's steps on the compilation of his data, and his description of the process by which Whitehead (one of Snow's theoretical rivals) came to be swayed by the power of Snow's evidence are readable and interesting.

    However, Johnson tends to ramble. A lot. In some places he comes across like a college freshman, desperately trying to pad out his term paper to make the required page count. His entire epilogue is just that: unfocused rambling, but it occurs elsewhere in his book as well, such as with his discussion of the origins of farming and civilization (his assertion that Native Americans didn't live in towns will certainly be news to anyone who has ever studied Cahokia and the prehistory of Southeastern North America), and other places in the book as well. I also find him somewhat untrustworthy in that he lets his enthusiasm carry him away into what may well be distortions of the historical record--this is a tendency I noticed as well in his previous book, Everything Bad is Good for You, which on the whole I read and enjoyed, but found disingenuous in some parts (notably his comparison of the Star Wars and LoTR movies). On the whole, this book is probably what it is trying to be: a good, readable "popular" account of the 1854 cholera epidemic. There's a place for that, but those with a serious interest in the epidemic would be well advised to seek out additional, more scholarly sources....more info
  • Great book.....(with a few caveats:)
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and learned a lot that I never knew before, both about disease (and our taming of some of them) and the Victorian era.....
    One reviewer mentioned "this well known episode of epidemiology" or some such. Well, I have serious doubts that this episode is all that well known outside of the fields of Medicine and Biology anymore. I believe we've taken the necessity of cleanliness for granted for a number of years now - at least in the western world - as a general thing without understanding the background of the dangers of communicable disease.

    I'm an Engineer. Part of my fascination with the book was the Victorian era 'discovery' (or re-discovery) of the need for a viable water supply system - one that conforms to hygienic cleanliness - and the absolute need for an efficient waste removal program. (Of course, inherent in each of these is also a requirement for general public education...)

    On to the book: I had to get past the first chapter or two before it actually "captured" me. Once it did, I couldn't put it down.

    As several reviewers have noted, the book has some redundancy in its message (when taken as a novel or just as a story) and the last chapter delves into the author's personal beliefs or "philanthropy" for lack of a better way to phrase it. This is unnecessary, but's his book !!
    And editing concerns are not necessarily the fault of the author:)...

    I highly recommend you read this book. Odds are you'll learn something you never knew, and its a much better use of your free time than most of the other media trash out there....more info
  • Prokaryotes, eukaryotes and urban life
    Steven Johnson's narrative of the 1854 cholera epidemic in London's Soho district is by turns illuminating, thought-provoking, and a little bit irritating.

    I don't think it's a perfect book, but I'm glad that I read it. For one thing, it sent me to the dictionary more than once*. For another, he artfully relates the cholera epidemic as a struggle of microbiology and of society. "Ghost Map" is about one kind of prokaryote (an organism composed of a cell with no nuclei, i.e., a bacterium) which needs eukaryotes (all other organisms, including humans) in which to live and multiply, and it's also about the humans who unwittingly create ideal environments for the cholera bacteria's life cycle.

    It's also about cities - and although I'm not sold on everything Johnson writes about the future of urbanism, he has some intriguing ideas. Because of them, I'll probably again read The Death and Life of Great American Cities - which I haven't looked at in years - with a new perspective.

    I would recommend "Ghost Map" not as a book with all the answers, but as one with a well-told historical tale which also poses important questions about the future of our urban life.

    *I admit that I'm using in this review some of the words I looked up - hoping that it will help me remember them.

    ...more info
  • Definitely Worth The Read
    The book kept me glued for 180 pages straight. Very compelling read for the genre. There are some negatives though. The book often dwells far too long on topics not all that relevant or necessary to the story. You get the filling that the author added a lot of filler to make the book longer. This feeling is stressed by the fact that the author repeats himself A LOT. He will literally say the same thing reworded three times in a row and repeat it once more in the next paragraph. Still, I loved the book and I felt an amazing sense of respect and pride while reading through plight of the two main protagonists. The writing isn't top shelf material but it works....more info
  • Insightful account of a defining moment in epidemiology
    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....more info
  • Review of "The Ghost map"
    This is a very well written account of the cholera epidemic in London in 1854 and the genesis of modern epidemiology. The author presents the story of John Snow, a doctor who is able to span levels of scale (from the micro to the social level) as well as conceptual levels to develop a modern understanding of the disease of cholera. Like Dr. Snow, the author likewise is able to span many levels of scale and conceptual understanding to present an exciting and very readable account of the epidemic. The event is clearly placed in to the context of other events and trends in Victorian society and the then-accepted level of scientific understanding. The author presents a view of the way in which new scientific theories are ultimately accepted. In this way it reinforces Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

    Particularly interesting in light of the book is the epilogue (Broad Street Revisited), in which the author presents his opinion of the possible future role of cities in the 21st century with emphases on public health, terrorism, and ecological issues.

    I have only one objection: The map that Dr. Snow prepared, with all salient features such as the Voronoi cells (explained in the text) is not presented in the book except in abbreviated form. The author provides links to books where the detailed map can be seen, but I find this lack to be a flaw on an otherwise very excellent book. I can only assume that the author had some difficulties obtaining rights to the original map, perhaps due to copyright or other restrictions, although I would expect that any original copyright would have long expired....more info
  • Nothing Scary About Ghost Map
    Steven Johnson's Ghost Map is the fascinating story of the beginning of modern public health. It highlights the desperate search for the cause of a London cholera epidemic in the 1850's. The book has the pace and readability of a medical thriller combined with strong science/invetigational story telling. While the science end of the story shines, the reader still feels the human suffering of this tragic event. I liked the book so much I bought multiple copies to give to other teachers....more info
  • Extremely Well-Written and Thoughtful
    This is a fascinating book, written with great depth and intelligence by Steven Johnson. Johnson spends a great deal of time scene-setting, and he very effectively brings you back to Dickens' London, where sewage and "miasma" and horrific living conditions combined to create a deadly cholera epidemic in 1850s London.

    In fact, this book is so well-written, so thoughtful and reflective, that you almost lose sight of the fact that the story is a bit thin. In other words, I think Steven Johnson could write a fascinating book about pretty much any topic. Here, although the mystery is solved fairly early in the story, the book keeps you enthralled nonetheless. That is a testament more to the writing than to the story itself which, while fascinating, wraps itself up fairly quickly.

    I look forward to more from this author....more info
  • Read this book and you'll have a new-found appreciation for toilets, clean water and water treatment plants
    This book should make you appreciate how far public health and sanitation have come in the past 150 years. Did you know, most of modern society's gains in life expectancy precede major medical breakthroughs like antibiotics? You can thank improvements in water, sanitation and housing. This book highlights the inviolable fact that preventing someone else's poop from entering your mouth is a good thing. Thank God and John Snow for water treatment plants....more info
  • Smells, and Germs and Miasmatists--oh my!
    I didn't hate this book-I just didn't love it like I wanted to. I liked the opening, lots of talk about raw sewage and life in Victorian London fascinating stuff we now give little or no thought to-except maybe through Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs, which I love. I was interested in Dr.Snow and his research into cholera and the notorious Broad Street Pump and all his very hardwork (that I am so personally thankful for!) on anaesthesia, allowing us to go to the dentist, have surgery and deliver babies in relative comfort. I mean, come on, the guy is a true hero! I found the miasmatists hilarious with all their "all smell is disease" theories. The answer to the problem was literally right under their noses, but they really couldn't make the connection with what was making the smell and how dangerous it would be to ingest that stuff.

    Johnson also has interesting observations about how the problem was somehow deemed one of superior bodily constitution and those of not so great bodily constitution--and how some people that got the disease were simply considered less morally refined than other families...

    However, by the last 75 pages or so, Johnson lost me. He went on and on about big cities and the internet and environmental footprints...I was saying, "what?" I understand how he was making those connections with his story about the London Cholera outbreak of the 1850's, but it just didn't really work. I got tired. I got bored. Too bad, because it wasn't such a bad book! Very educational. Sometimes funny. Johnson is a pretty good writer with a lot of interesting ideas. I'd pick up something by him again...but not a re-read.
    ...more info
  • When it's good, it's very very good but.....
    Fascinating tale of Victorian hygiene. The author starts off with the telling of more about poo than anyone would ever think he needed to know. City sanitation before the modern age was just plain hideous. You wonder how the populace could live this way but I guess it was just "how things were" for them.

    The basic premise of the book continued to be interesting but deteriorated due to bad editing. The same information was given 10 ways to Sunday and then the author really ran amuck with references to global warming.

    Overall, an interesting read but if you stop at the halfway point you'll get a better
    ...more info
  • Miasma this.
    An amazing look into 19th century social and public health issues. It's very accessible to those who know nothing about the subject, but the reader comes away with useful information to use when evaluating contemporarily similar issues. Highly recommended for those looking for an interesting non-fiction read....more info
  • Vivid descriptions... but few maps!
    I am a reader of non fiction only if it tells a good story with lots of interesting facts included. This is exactly what the Ghost Map does.

    This is the story of science in Victorian times. It's also the story of urbanization and plague. It's also the story of how a man who perseveres can really change the world.

    The author's depiction of Cholera from the scientific perspective, is fantastic. Though I'm not a biologist, I understand how this disease works, how it vectors, and how it only really breaks out under certain conditions. What really got me, though, was his description of the person dying of cholera. The person dies but is completely aware. His body is dying but his mind is sharp. It has to be a hideous death.

    These kind of thoughts were foremost for me while I was reading this book. It was evocative and I was quite empathetic. When it came to the layout of the arguments that John Snow made when he was trying to end the Cholera outbreak near London's Golden Square, I really wish the book had contained more diagrams. The pictures of the principle players were nice, and the one depiction of Snow's Broad Street Outbreak map is good, but I wish there had been more. Instead of just describing what was there and what is there, why not throw some illustrations in? A picture would have been worth many many words.

    Anyhow, I did enjoy the book and feel quite enlightened. And frightened of cholera.

    (*)>...more info
  • Thinking outside the box
    This is a very interesting book on several levels. It is a fairly detailed case study of a cholera outbreak in London in 1854 and of the attempts of two dedicated men, one an esteemed physician and the other a neighborhood Anglican priest, to determine the cause, which turned out to be contaminated water. Once they do determine the cause, they run headlong into the established scientific orthodoxies of the day, which center around the "miasma" theory, a vague notion that such epidemics are caused by the overall environment in which they occur, sometimes the air, sometimes living conditions, and even, in a classic case of blaming the victims, by the characters of the victims. Eventually the scientific establishment is won over to the waterborne theory, but not after long hard fights, and not until after many more deaths could have been prevented.

    The central points that I got out of this book are these:

    1) Pre-scientific modes of thinking prevailed in the scientific establishment until well into the 19th century, or 1854 as we see here. The idea of empirically testing hypotheses seems not to have occurred to many scientists of the day.

    2) The importance of "thinking outside the box," of not accepting conventional or established ideas just because they are established.

    3) Revolutions in scientific thinking, or paradigm shifts, as Thomas Kuhn called them, rarely occur easily. Often the revolutionary idea is ignored, then ridiculed, then fought against, then eventually accepted, often by a later generation which had not been schooled in the conventional ways of thinking.

    All told an interesting book, well recommended. I did not give it 5 stars because the author can at times move away from the immediate narrative to more abstract matters that can often be tedious. The book can be redundant as well. But altogether a good read....more info
  • Lest we forget
    Cholera isn't an infection that we generally worry about in the U.S., but this book tells a fascinating story of how the link was made between drinking water and cholera in a real-world epidemilogical study. Stories like this remind us that there are modes of transmission of organisms that aren't always obvious, and until we understand how people are infected, we can't stop it from happening again.
    Parts of the book moved slowly, but it was worth pushing through the detail for the story behind cholera. As it says in the title to the book, it changed the way we build cities. I would have liked more medical details about cholera and how it affects the body. I often wonder what ramifications survivors of various infections experience. (How long it takes for them to completely recover. Do they completely recover or do they have "relapses"? Do some people experience a permanent decrease in health from this type of infection?) The author didn't address these issues, but instead described the footwork used to discover the source of infection and the difference it made in city living worldwide. I recommend it! ...more info
  • Where has your drinking water been?
    The difficulty in reading about centuries past is adopting the mindset of those who lived then; how can we, with our 21st century knowledge, grasp a world in which people washed their babies' diapers next to the local drinking supply and thought nothing of it? Yet, Johnson weaves such a detailed picture of London life at the time that the commonplace miscomprehensions held by both the academics and uneducated are understandable. Johnson's greatest narrative gift is capturing the extent of the devastation and its commonplace nature in 19th century London, where people lived with the constant threat of epidemic.
    The last fifth of the book is given over to Johnson's theorizing about the future of city planning, trying to tie it into the work of the pioneering researchers of the cholera outbreak. This non sequitur weakens the overall book, but only slightly. The mystery is real, the medical discoveries ingenious and Johnson's research and narrative compelling....more info
  • The Ghost Map: History & Science in One Painless Lesson
    Author Steven Johnson accomplishes a miracle by weaving history, science, sociology, and the history of big cities into a can't-put-it-down mystery. In another brilliant stroke, Johnson beautifully reconciles religion and science through the book's two main "characters": Dr. John Snow and Henry Whitehead, a clergyman. The life of either of these two individuals would be fascinating enough, but their interwoven paths, coupled with London's disasterous cholera epidemic of 1854 produces a remarkable work of nonfiction that reads more like fiction.

    A warning here: the subject matter necessitates an understanding of how big cities like London dealt with raw sewage. To understand cholera and how it works, I'm afraid one must... follow the fecal matter. Don't let this deter you! Johnson manages to tell the stories of many cholera victims with unerring sensitivity and poignancy while at the same time following the horrific course of the epidemic. You will never read another Charles Dickens novel without thinking of Victorian London's sewage system and its drinking water.

    It is fascinating to learn just how difficult it was for the scientific world and Victorian society to shift prevailing attitudes about disease transmission. How are people getting cholera? Even in the face of scientific proof, many experts in science and medicine rejected Dr. Snow's theory about how cholera was transmitted from victim to victim. The final triumph is, of course, the genuinely creepy ghost map that helped to prove Dr. Snow was correct. The need to shift scientific theory regularly occurs in our modern world. Early in the understanding of AIDS, people living with this disease were shunned because it was thought one could contract AIDS from casual contact such as a simple handshake.
    ...more info
  • The pages of praise at the beginning are nothing but lies!
    A fan of books by historical writers such as Erik Larson ("Isaac's Storm," "Devil in the White City") and Timothy Egan (the utterly breathtaking "The Worst Hard Time"), I decided to give Steven Johnson a try. Needless to say, I was disappointed in "The Ghost Map." Johnson quite simply did not leave an impression on me the way Larson and Egan did. The book seemed too moralistic and preachy, relying on pathos and storytelling as much, if not more than, actual, historical fact. There are too many descriptions of babies crying in dark, empty homes; too many forced diatribes of ideological battles between Snow and Whitehead; too many far-fetched extrapolations to the present and future for the book to function effectively. But perhaps the most glaring issue is that many of the winding, senselessly repetitive passages had no historical basis whatsoever, and if they did, Johnson certainly did not convey the connection to his sources clearly. Had I submitted this as a paper for class, I would expect much of it to be returned underneath layers and layers of disheartening red ink. Johnson's bibliography is respectable, but his final product is not. Rarely do I encounter a book where I feel as though I am wasting my time. Sadly, "Ghost Map" falls into that category. All I wanted to do was set the book down write to Penguin Books for a refund. I hoped Johnson might eventually resurrect himself, and therefore kept reading--a mistake indeed. The only enjoyable part of the novel was the beginning, when Johnson described the thousands of scavengers sifting through London's filth. After that, the book spun wildly... not downhill (because that would imply a sense of direction), but every which way imaginable. "The Ghost Map" is history at its sensationalized worst. Although I have not read Sandra Hempel's "The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump," I feel obligated to recommend it before I even consider suggesting this piece....more info
  • Challenging Your Assumptions In the Time of Cholera
    The time is 1854; the place is London; and a cholera epidemic has broken out. Not that unusual, but the very localized nature of the epidemic stirs the curiosity of one John Snow, a physician and pioneer in the administration of the newly discovered anesthetic, ether. The conventional wisdom is that cholera is somehow related to the stench in the air--miasma--present over much of the city where common practice was to dump excreta in cesspools, basements, or increasingly into sewer pipes that ran into the Thames. But Snow wonders, as he goes through the weekly medical records, why some areas of SoHo have great numbers of deaths, while other areas close by have very few cases. He is aided in his research by the Rev. Henry Whitehead whose parish work in the area provides him with keen insights into the people and their habits.

    In time, and through mapping the distribution of cases, the two men discover that the pattern is related to which of the many wells that serve the city the inhabitants get their drinking water from. Later it is discovered that the instigator was a woman who discarded soiled water from a child with cholera that seeped into the defective well casing. Despite the early work of the two men, their research is derided until later the woman and the soiled water, the timing of this event, and other factors finally convinced the authorities, and the medical communitiy, that bad smells did not necessarily lead to bad illnesses. One of the fascinating clues was that a brewery that got its water from the infected wells had none of its employees get cholera, which made sense when it was discovered that a quart or so per day of the brewery's product was part of their pay. Therefore, these guys had no need to drink water with all of the free beer available!

    This is an interesting book, well-written in general, though at times somewhat redundant in telling the reader what has has been told previously. I got the feeling that originally this was intended for a lengthy essay on the 1854 epidemic, then expanded into a book. Some of Johnson's ruminations about the future in the last chapter suggest this. Nonetheless, a good and interesting read and a fine example of evaluating all alternatives, the utility of visual presentation of data and the scorn that one must endure when one challenges covententional wisdom. ...more info
  • Dr John Snow and the transmission of cholera
    Many years ago, I read the monograph of Dr John Snow ("On the mode of communication of cholera") originally published in 1854 after the famous Broad Street outbreak of cholera which is described in the book of Steven Johnson, "The ghost map".
    But at that time, I was unable to fully understand the historical background in which Dr Snow lived and the details of how he made his fundamental discovery of the transmission of cholera by water. I did'nt even know Henry Whitehead and how important he was in that history.
    The book "The ghost map" of Steven Johnson, is really amazing because it takes us deep into the "Victorian World" of Dr Snow, making his achievement even greater.
    The medical paradigm of contagious diseases at Dr Snow's time was the miasma theory which said that those diseases were transmitted by air.
    But based on his work as doctor and anesthesiologist (by the way, he is the father of anesthesiology) he doubted the miasma theory for two evidences he was fully aware :
    1. the symptoms of cholera are all related to the gastrointestinal tract, the lungs are not affected at all (and they used to performed autopsies); so, how could a disease be transmitted by air if the lung are spared ? the transmission should be in the food or water not in the air;
    2. if the transmission was by air contaminated with organic compounds as postulated by the miasma theory, all sorts of cleaning workers of London should be more affected by cholera than other people, which was not the case; and according to Dr Snow's own observations of the effects of ether and chloroform on patients during his numerous anesthesias, he knew that the more concentrated a gas, the more intense would be its effects (the so-called dose-effect relationship).
    So, Dr Snow postulated that the transmission could be by water and he moved on to test that hipothesis. Before the Broad Street outbreak of cholera he had tested it in a previous epidemic of cholera in London (in 1848-1849) by comparing the statistics of death with the supply of clean or poluted water from the Thames river. And this statistical correlation proved correct.
    So, when the Broad Street outbreak started, Dr Snow was aware that the likely source of contamination was the water of the pump. But it would be very difficult to prove it and persuade people.

    ...more info
  • A Solid History of Science Book
    This is the story of Dr. John Snow and the development of modern epidemiology and germ theory. As a history of science read, this book is very good. It has lots of drama and reads like a mystery. I did learn about Snows research into anesthesia, something I didn't know about. Most of the book centers around the cholera outbreak in London and Snow's work to counter the generally accepted miasma theory. This is a great book for young researchers to see how prevailing paradigms can be completely wrong, yet generally accepted and even unquestioned. ...more info
  • Good read
    My first introduction to John Snow and his work surrounding the cholera epidemic of the 1850's was during a microbiology class I took 5-6 years ago. John Snow is largely credited with the discovery of the causative nature of cholera and the resulting changes in civic sanitation and waste management. My appetite was only whetted then and wasn't fully satiated until after I read this intriguing account by Steven Johnson. More than just a telling of the events and resolution of the cholera epidemic of 1850's London, this book casts light on the political and social context of the times that made Mr. Snow's efforts even more noteworthy. Today we take for granted the germ theory of disease, but in Victorian London during the cholera outbreak of the 1850's the prevailing belief was that disease was caused by unhealthy air. Mr. Johnson's account of the obstacles faced by Mr. Snow in proving the true nature of the cholera's transmission is fascinating. This is a very good read for those interested in science and history. ...more info
  • Absolutely riveting
    Once I started it, I couldn't put it down. This book immediately grabs you and dumps you into the wretchedness and filth that is London in 1854. Before this book, I couldn't have told you what cholera was or how it is prevented/cured, but now I can. My only complaint is that the photo/graphic of the actual ghost map is not featured very prominently. It would have been wonderful to have more and larger photos of the actual map to peruse. It's almost difficult to understand if the map shown is the actual ghost map. There's also a discussion about what the map orginally looked like and then the 2nd edition. Why couldn't they have put both of them in? ...more info
  • Lack of maps and diagrams diminishes the story
    I don't understand how an author or publisher can produce a book with "Map" in the title and provide only one so-so map in the work. How about maps that show the SoHo neighborhood as it relates to others and to central London? Why don't we see maps that show the water intakes and sewer outlets along the Thames? How about a diagram that shows a cross-sectional view of the basements, cesspools, drains, sewer lines, wells, etc? Unfortunately, the author leaves all this to our imagination or to another source. That approach--common these days across many authors and publishers--diminishes the story. An interesting story, but only three stars....more info
  • Interesting read - holds your attention
    The Ghost Map is basically a medical detective story. When cholera devastates a London neighborhood, a brilliant doctor and the local preacher team up to find out what caused the outbreak. They go door to door, interview hundreds of witnesses, and conduct lab tests. They sum up their findings with the ghost map - a detailed map of the neighborhood that clearly points to the cause of the outbreak. What they discover goes against strongly entrenched medical theories but in the end the medical detectives are proven right. It is because of their discoveries that cholera is virtually non-existent in the modern developed world. The story of The Ghost Map is an interesting and inspiring piece of history. ...more info
  • Good book, but Kindle edition falls short
    This was the first book I purchased for my Kindle, based on a friend's recommendation (who had read the print version). I found it a very enjoyable read, and it will be especially appealing to those interested in epidemiology, statistical graphics, and medical history.

    However, if you care at all about annotations and such, I recommend you get it in print, not as a Kindle e-book. The book has very extensive notes at the end. I have to believe that these notes are numbered, and that there are superscripts in the main text of the printed version that reference these notes. However, in the Kindle edition, there are no links to these notes (even though such linking is possible), and there is no way to associate a given end note with a location in the text. I doubt that I would have interrupted my reading to follow many such notes, but I certainly would have done so a FEW times on topics of particular interest to me, and the inability to do so is a big loss.

    The Kindle edition also includes the complete index, minus page numbers, and again with no links. This is not as big a problem, as one can use the search feature to find those locations.

    What I wonder now is if this lack of linkage to end notes is the norm for Kindle books, or whether The Ghost Map is unusual in that respect. I suppose I will be pretty leery of reading nonfiction in this format in the future. This e-book cost me less than the printed form -- but I also received significantly less.

    Another general note on the book is that it is disappointing that it does not display the second version of Snow's map (with voronoi boundaries) that is discussed in the conclusions. It would seem that this would be the "title map" so it is a curious omission....more info
  • Mapping a mystery
    Interesting retelling of the London Cholera outbreak in 1854, and how a physician and a pastor working on the edges of their disciplines solved the mystery and drew the "ghost map" of deaths which pointed to the source of the disease.

    Bogs down when Johnson generalizes to the benefit of modern cities to the economy, the environment, and world health. Yeah, maybe, but I'm not sure Johnson proves the point or rather I'm fairly sure that Johnson over-reaches the evidence to try to prove his point.

    Edward Tufte references this map extensively in his book Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative as a positive example of the power of proper visual display of information....more info
  • A page turner
    I bought this book based on other reviews. If you like a detective story and are interested in Victorian times, this is a real page turner. The writing style reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes series--clean and direct. The book could have ended with the cholera story, and I would have been happy. The remainder of the book has some interesting points, especially on increasing urbanization, but it was not as compelling as the search for the cause of cholera. Still, when a book begins to bore me, I have no problem putting it down unfinished. I finished this book and even read some of the notes and research material at the end. ...more info
  • For every epidemyolgist and anasthesiologist

    There are many detective stories on serial killers. This one is the best, the real one. The killer is from the city of London, in England. He cause the death of more than 10 or 20 victims. The smart detective is Dr Snow , he
    is the anesthesiologist ( actually the only one in the world than ) of her majesty the queen, his name is John Snow! and it is a real story . Half way through the book we know who is responsible ( the vibrio Cholera) but the way he solve the mystery , his "elementary" thinking make this book a delight to read, and it adds to the books that describe the history of medicine in such a way that make it a real adventure, which is what it is . ...more info
  • Ghost Map didn't quite lead where I wanted to go
    This book is about the cholera outbreaks in 1800's London and the efforts of two men to combat them. The author Steven Johnson did a very good job of leading me along the path of clues that eventually lead to the answer to the cause of the outbreaks and it was hard to put the book down. He also very competently explained why old, incorrect theories persist even in the face of new information, represented respectively by miasma and contagion. What was scary was that cities were so primitive in terms of public health up until so recently. But in other respects I found this book strangely unfulfilling. I felt that I hadn't learned that much about John Snow, the father of modern epidemiology. In addition, Johnson spent considerable effort in discussing the sociology of cities and how this changed as a result of the London cholera epidemic, especially in his Conclusion and Epilogue. I would rather have read about what cities did to improve public health, as this was what I wanted to learn about. If you are interested in the sociological aspects of epidemics then this book might be for you. But clearly, this book is not about epidemiology and about the development of public health. If this is your interest, then you might be vaguely disappointed.

    ...more info
  • Nice read
    Discovered Mr. Johnson's book via a column by George Will in the Washington Post online a few weeks ago. I've read many books on the plague and primitive medicine. Mr. Johnson's book was more a detective novel with the source of the cholera as the culprit.
    Overall, the book is well written and quite amusing (especially when he holds-forth on the prevailing notion of a "miasma" source----if it "stinks, it kills"). But herein lies the rub; Mr. Johnson repeatedly presents the "theory of evolution" as fact. He extols the scientific process employed by Dr. Snow (whom he credits with discovering the source of cholera), while presenting the "theory" matter-of-factly. I'm no advocate of "intelligent design" (but I don't discount it), and the purpose of the book was not to "prove" evolution---however I found it ironic for the author to applaud the scientific basis of Dr. Snow's discovery while passing off a "theory" in several points as fact. This however is a literary nit---and I've recommended this book to friends who enjoy the genre, and marked-up my copy for future reference.
    Recommended....more info
  • The Ghost Map is a very engaging book.
    I found the Ghost Map incredibly engaging--it chronicles the beginning of public health and of epidemiology in the context of London's Cholera 1854 epidemic. The book is very well written--but I believe that it could have been much shorter and that a more aggressive editor could have tightened the narrative.

    Nonetheless, this is a great read---it's history at its most compelling. ...more info
  • The Ghost Map
    A fascinating read, in fact, the story line that weaves the two main characters together, Snow and Whitehead, has an almost cinematic sense of drama especially set against the Dickensian squalor of mid nineteenth century London.

    Dan Mandish...more info
  • a frightening lesson for us all
    The Ghost Map describes a series of events more than a centory and a half ago, but the warnings are still timely. Crowding vast numbers or people together without proper sanitation and with primitive understanding of medicine is a deadly cocktail, and cholera the villain of the book is still frequent killer in the underdeveloped world. WE must all stay alert to te potential ravages of lethal diseases. The book is a sharp warning against complacency and at the same time a captivating good read....more info


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