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A Brief Critique of the Ghost Map Book by Steven Johnson

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In the summer of 1854, London was coming out as one of the most modern cities in the world

With nearly 2.4 million people living in the area at the time, the city’s infrastructure itself was having a hard time providing for the basic needs of its residents. The biggest problem existing within the city at that time was its waste removal system, or for better terms, its lack of one. Human waste was piling up everywhere, from people houses to the rivers and drinking water. This situation was the perfect breeding conditions for a number of diseases, and towards the end of that summer, one of the most deadly of them all took over. The work of these two men changed the contemporary views on how disease was spread. By solving the cholera mystery, they helped contribute to making the world safe for bigger cities.

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In The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson informs us of the cholera outbreak that engrossed London in 1854. The accepted conviction at the time was that the malady was as a result of miasma - terrible, malodorous air that pervaded the conurbation. A general practitioner by the name John Snow was convinced that the cholera was caused by water-related factors, and a clergyman named Henry Whitehead positioned himself out to demonstrate that, the physician wash erroneous. Jointly, the two men established that Snow was correct. It was Snow's "ghost map," illustrating the affiliation of where inhabitants passed away in relation to their water resource that persuaded the urban leaders to take the opposite measures. Steven Johnson (2006) employs the anecdote of the cholera epidemic to demonstrate how conurbations, precedent, and current, continue to seek appropriate measures to deal with tribulations created by bulky concentrations of citizens living in swarming areas. The Ghost Map has received encouraging scholarly analysis with numeral academicians asserting that more considerate, though, he depicts London not just as an opinionated and geographical body, but also, as an existing organism that has to nurture and replenish itself to stay alive. He makes livelier what might have been dry-as-dust discipline coverage with brilliantly drawn characters and abundant bookish references. Better still, he permits his personal fervor for such flashes of individual inventiveness to stand out though

This book opens up with a vivid description of London as a metropolitan of foragers: pure-finders, night-soilmen, sewer-hunters and bone-pickers among others. Against this milieu of vile and appalling smells, and in the face of a terrible epidemic, Snow illustrated that cholera was spread through unhygienic water. In opposition to substantial resistance from the health and bureaucratic institution, Snow persevered and, with hard work and revolutionary research, facilitated to carry about elemental changes in our understanding of maladies and their spread. Johnson interlaces in overlapping thoughts about the augmentation of civilization, the institution of cities, and development to exhilarating effect. This is a comprehensive book integrating a detective story, a preface to figures (math), and a private history. From Snow's unearthing of patient zero to Johnson's convincing dispute for and celebration of towns, this makes for an enlightening and fulfilling read. It is not a book for the easily offended, however; a vibrant explanation of death from cholera is graphically and frighteningly detailed. As remarkable as the central body of the book is, Johnson concludes with an Epilogue, which I suppose was most likely written well after he completed the telling of Dr. Snow’s account. In conclusion, On August 28, 1854, a plebeian Londoner Sarah Lewis drained a bucket of dissipated water into the open drain of her neglected high-rise building and activated the deadliest eruption of cholera in the city's record. A Victorian town with more than 2 million inhabitants crammed into a ten-mile perimeter. This is the account of two dedicated men: Dr. John Snow who initiated the use of ether as a sedative in the United Kingdom, and on a private note, refers to the foremost medical use of ether by Dr. William Morton; and the Reverend Henry Whitehead, an Oxford-educated juvenile whose Anglican mission did nothing to decrease his affection for London watering holes. Therefore, by exploring diverse living aspects which were ignored within the larger London, the book presents vivid accounts on how dense cities can be affected by mire health ignorance. All in all, it is a well-articulated book.

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The book starts with the chapter named "The Night-Soil Men," and it provides detail about the London, during those times which was the most densely populated place of the word and there were various issues related to output privies, cesspools, sewers, and Thames where urban scavenger were almost spending their life on a gathering up human excrement. There is a clear indication of the fact that during the middle of the 19th century London was facing a major problem of water closets and other related waterborne diseases (Johnson, Steven, 2006). Johnson shows a major interest not only providing the groundbreaking increase that contributed to the waste management problems in London however they also showed how the inadequate application of policy and lack of execution power efficiently contributed to the stretch of the epidemic. Johnson also discussed about how the overflowing cesspools resulted in the contamination of basements of many houses in London. It was quite unfortunate that wells in the city during their time provided the water for drinking purposes and therefore the spread of contaminated water from the wells was quite easily possible. The book also provided various case studies like the incident that happened with Thomas and Sarah Lewis who had unknowingly contaminated the cesspool in front of the house by throwing water in which they had washed their daughter’s clothes, who was actually suffering from cholera. Similarly, there is a detailed account of interactions between John Snow and Henry Whitehead who used to work around the neighborhood streets and notice of incidents that took place and the disease source on a house by house basis. There is a very clear picture of the London at the time which is presented to the readers in ‘the ghost map’, however the book still lacks a few details from the social economic point of view and does not provide any details of the political involvement into the eradication of epidemic sources. The book also tries to, compel the readers to believe that London was "a creature with volition of its own," and therefore forces are reasons to believe that only the people were responsible for the epidemic (Johnson, Steven, 2006. Despite lacking in a couple of areas, the book provides an excellent source to know more about the historical events that took place and resulted in the cholera epidemic during the great of 19th-century in London

The book is highly informative and presents a very detailed view of the period, people and theories of that time, which is very valuable information in today's context and helps us to understand the various shortcomings and their solution which is even applicable in the current scenario.

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Summing up, besides a bit of repetitiveness here and there, as well as the epilogue, it’s an excellent book. Johnson is a fantastic writer, and clearly understands the history as well as the science of what he’s writing about. In an appendix, he explains his use of historic materials (dialogue is only used where he has sources), and what freedoms he took in writing the story

If you care about context, not just a single map on a pedestal, this book will give you a lot of insight into the world it came from, and the revolution in thinking it embodies.

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Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.

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