Friday, September 14, 2012

The Ghost Map

Today's non-fiction post is on 'The Ghost Map' by Steven Johnson. The subtitle is 'The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic- and How it changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World'. It is 299 pages long with notes and appendixes. It is published by Riverhead Books which an imprint of Penguin Group. The cover is plain and makes it very clear that you are about to read something non-fiction and should be proud of yourself for doing it. I think that There Be Spoilers Ahead but I'm really new to this non-fiction thing so Be Ware? Or Aware? Still not sure. Oh well on with the review.

From the dust jacket- Trust Steven Johnson to put an intriguing and unconventional spin on a well-known story! The nimble-minded nonfiction writer who dazzled us in Emergence, Mind Wide Open, and Everything Bad Is Good for You now parses a storied incident from the annals of public health-- the Broad Street cholera epidemic of 1854, a deadly outbreak that literally decimated London's population in eight days. At the center of the story stand two heroic figures: Reverend Henry Whitehead and Dr. John Snow, whose combined efforts in mapping the disease solved the mystery of how cholera spreads and created a model of information design with wide-ranging implications. Using historical narrative as a scaffolding for some of his famously big ideas, Johnson shows how this story from Victorian times offers lessons for modern cities facing a host of problems-- from urban sprawl to environmental crises and the threat of bio-terrorism.

I am trying to get more variety in my reading diet so I am going to read one non-fiction book at a time. The reason for that is because I read about four to five fiction books at once so adding one non-fiction is pretty good. This book was wonderful. Now I have read history books because I have a college degree and they do not give other to you without having to read at least one thing mind-numbingly boring but Johnson is not it. His prose is wonderful; he tells the story of how Dr. John Snow proved to everyone that cholera was waterborne in a way that is like reading a thriller. When I read that Reverend Whitehead had some of the water from the contaminated pump I got chills. I was so worried about him that it annoyed me to have to wait to get back to see how and why he survived. Johnson taking the problem of the outbreak from all angles. He discusses the current theories of disease, where John Snow came from, why Reverend Whitehead was so important to the discovery. I read this book in about five days, I just wanted to know what was going to happen and how Snow was going to stop the outbreak. While I was reading this I was thinking about how an outbreak like this would effect the world now and then Johnson starts talking about that too. All in all a wonderful way to start my non-fiction habit.

I give this five of five stars. I get nothing for my review, I borrowed this book from my library.