Most of the book is a fascinating look at the events of the cholera epidemic in London in 1854. Fascinating, and horrifying as well. It does get a bit bogged down at times, especially related to the miasma theory of disease that was the predominant theory at the time. There’s a bit of a smugness directed at those who mistakenly held to this theory that got wearying to read.
And then there’s the epilogue, which felt jarringly tacked-on to it all. It’s all about modern risks of urban life. Once I got over the mental adjustment of jumping from 1854 to 2015 it was interesting, but still not at all a smooth transition between the two. It’s actually quite good (and sobering), but it didn’t feel like it fit that well in the book.
While I do love audio books, I’d caution anyone about listening to this with an audience. There’s a fair amount of grossness described (it was cholera after all), although much of it uses proper terms or euphemisms that younger kids might not catch so perhaps it wouldn’t matter? But they weren’t all euphemisms, and something about hearing certain words makes them extra jarring to me, as opposed to just reading them.
Another disadvantage to listening to this one would be the lack of the map! I read this on my Kindle, and that was hard enough because the map included is so hard to see on the small screen. I wished I had a hard-copy to reference, and ended up searching for the map online.
It’s the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure–garbage removal, clean water, sewers–necessary to support its rapidly expanding population, the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure. As the cholera outbreak takes hold, a physician and a local curate are spurred to action–and ultimately solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.
In a triumph of multidisciplinary thinking, Johnson illuminates the intertwined histories of the spread of disease, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry, offering both a riveting history and a powerful explanation of how it has shaped the world we live in.
Title: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Author: Steven Johnson
Category: Nonfiction / History
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
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