A Brief Critique of the Ghost Map Book by Steven Johnson
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.