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Review of “The Ghost Map”


The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.  By Steven Johnson.  New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.  Print.  Pp. xviii+302.  $16.00.

This tightly-written triumph of historical nonfiction, written by Steven Johnson, author of seven other books including the national bestseller Everything Bad Is Good for You, follows two eminently prolific individuals––the taciturn yet brilliant Dr. John Snow, and the genial and equally perceptive Rev. Henry Whitehead––as their lives briefly intertwine when an unprecedentedly intense outbreak of cholera devastates a swathe of Victorian London.  Johnson describes how, in the span of a few weeks during the summer and fall of 1854, these two tenacious men join forces to propose a pioneering solution to what then was medicine’s most befuddling conundrum: a waterborne theory of cholera.  The implications of their explanation for cholera’s spread, though not immediately realized––Snow and Whitehead’s seminal achievement is recognized only shortly after the Great Stink of 1858, posthumously in Snow’s case––are unfavorable for the continued survival of the then-preponderant miasmatic theory of disease. Read the rest of this entry

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