The Ghost Map: The Story of Londonís Most Terrifying Epidemicóand How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (Riverhead Books 2006), by Steven Johnson, is the story of the cholera outbreak that swept the streets of London during the summer of 1854. The heroes of the story, Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead, search tirelessly for the cause of the outbreak.
Johnsonís work details a terrifying time in Londonís history: a time when everyone was falling ill, and no one knew why. While many theories on the origin of the disease were present, none of them satisfied Snow and Whitehead. These two medical detectives set off on an investigation and mission to prove that the cause of the epidemic is the water pump, not an easy task without the assistance of modern medical science. The partners are forced to overcome skepticism, denial, and mockery to save the city.
The Ghost Map also shows how the discovery of the origin of the cholera epidemic, and the ensuing knowledge of the spread of disease, has influenced the way water systems and cities are built today. Johnson's final chapter details how the creation of cities has, in his opinion, made our population more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
The Ghost Map is an incredible look at the story behind the origins of epidemiology, the core science of public health. Johnson manages to keep the story interesting and humanistic, while providing the many details that surrounded the outbreak. The mix of historical knowledge and imaginative invention is perfectly suited to the story. Johnson is careful to use only documented evidence and historical accounts when creating the characters and their words.
From the moment I started this book, I was enthralled in this story. I could not help but cheer for the heroes and be disappointed whenever someone got in the way of their investigation. Johnson presents the characters in such a way that you feel they are standing right in front of you. Anyone interested in the history of cities, culture, medicine, or public health should take the time to read this book.
About the Author
Steven Johnson is a bestselling author of Everything Bad Is Good for You. He has also founded several websites including outside.in, FEED, and Plastic. Johnson currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and three sons. He describes this book as a project he had been working on for twenty years.
The Ghost Map is available from Amazon.