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The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks. Paperback – 31 Jan 2008


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (31 Jan. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141029366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141029368
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 168,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"The simultaneously macro and micro examination of a hugely pivotal moment, both in the understanding of disease and the growth of cities. Highly informative, deeply entertaining, meticulously assembled. Splendid." -- William Gibson, author of Spook Country

'A wonderful book' -- Mail on Sunday

'Enthralling ...vivid and gripping' -- New Statesman

'A thumping page-turner' -- Daily Telegraph

'A thumping page-turner' -- Daily Telegraph

'Exhilarating'
-- Spectator

About the Author

Steven Johnson is the author of the acclaimed books Everything Bad is Good for You (described as a 'must read' by Mark Thompson, head of the BBC), Mind Wide Open, Emergence and Interface Culture. His writing appeared in the Guardian, the New Yorker, Nation and Harper's, as well as the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He is a Distinguished Writer In Residence at NYU's School Of Journalism, and a Contributing Editor to Wired. He is also the co-creator of several influential web sites: FEED, Plastic, and Outside.in. He has degrees in Semiotics and English Literature from Brown and Columbia Universities. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three sons.

Steven Johnson hosts a web log at

www.stevenberlinjohnson.com

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By JJA Kiefte on 2 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Steven Johnson's narrative initially grabs you by the throat and the book is literally a page turner if there ever was one. A parade of the most appaling professions with which people eked out a meagre existence, the hairraising living conditions of the majority of Londoners and the very vivid and utterly dramatic description of the course of the disease (most people who contracted cholera died within 48 hours and knew it; they often saw their families dying before their very eyes without being able to do anything) makes you realise how lucky we are to be living in the present and not in Victorian times. But after 228 pages Johnson loses his thread somewhere and the remaining thirty-odd pages are quite frankly awfully boring and have little or no bearing on what went on before. An editor would have been welcome indeed. But since the lion's share of the book deserves eight stars and only the last tiny bit two, my verdict in the end would be five.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Kilgore Trout on 16 April 2008
Format: Paperback
I read this after it was recommended on Radio 4's book club, and thought that it was generally pretty good. It was obviously well researched and the writing was engaging. My only complaint was that the story did not have enough substance to justify a book that is couple of hundred pages long. Initially, I really enjoyed the book, with its evocative descriptions of Victorian London - night soil men and all. However, the author soon began repeating himself and labouring certain points (I lose count of how many times he stated that Dr Snow and Rev Whitehead were mutually dependent on each other when it came to solving the problem of how cholera is transmitted - but it felt like too many!) My overall impression was that this story would have made a good article, but that it had insufficient depth to require a book of this length.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Herr Holz Paul on 16 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book a lot. It is packed full of interesting facts and anecdotes. I think I have now found the genre of writing which I enjoy the most, ie social history with a good story to ignite the imagination! This book is both entertaining and educational.
Perhaps the most interesting observation for me in this book is that of the obvious difficulty faced by Dr. Snow and later Reverend Whitehead when trying to persuade the establishment that it was the water and not the air which carried the disease. It is only 150 years since this happened and I find this vision of our ineptitude quite revealing! The author also includes on this subject an enlightening passage about how we have evolved an exaggerated aversion to odours of decay and putrefaction - probably as a self defence mechanism against the consumption of unsuitable food stuffs, and that this had a lot to do with the enthusiasm of the miasma theorists - `All smell is disease`.
Some of the reviewers of this book are critical of the epilogue, so I approached it with a little hesitancy. However, I did not find it particularly objectionable. The author does depart a little from the main subject of the Broad Street epidemic, and writes about the evolution of modern city culture, but I found some interesting material - `The Victorians could barely see microbial life-forms swimming in a petri dish in front of them. Today, a suspicious molecule floats by a sensor in Las Vegas, and within hours the authorities at the CDC in Atlanta are on the case.`
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Doctor Zeke on 30 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
The author told this tale of the first epidemiological study, and how it put an end to cholera in London, with such mastery of language and pacing. But then the last chapter was cobbled together by musing on the future, ruminating about potential threats to health, and making tenuous connections to John Snow's work. Still well worth reading, but the ending will ensure that it becomes dated rapidly.
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The history of how Dr John Snow saved London from cholera is well-known, but, as Steven Johnson shows, not as well-known as we may have thought. The role in providing decisive support for Snow's theory, concerning the Broad Street outbreak of 1854, actually fell to a curate named Whitehead, who used his immense local knowledge and the trust he had built up with parishioners (although I'd imagine a few of the locals weren't actually Anglicans by then) to fill in the last gap in the puzzle.

The irony, Johnson points out, is that Whitehead had initially been strongly opposed to Snow's ideas, but was won over to them during the course of his own investigations. The result didn't transform London overnight and can't even be said to have been behind the mighty Bazalgette sewer construction project (which Johnson rightly rates as the greatest London building project ever undertaken), but Snow's findings finally took root in the minds of the professionals in charge of London's public health.

It is a fascinating story and heart-breaking, of course, at many turns. For the most part, Johnson writes it well. I think he is a bit repetitive, however, and frequently discursive. There is a fairly wide divide between explanation and plain showing-off and Johnson quite frequently finds himself stranded on the wrong side of it.

My main complaint with this book, though, is the epilogue, which seems to go on forever. Yes, Johnson is striving to argue that Snow's mapping of the cholera outbreak set the standard for all sorts of analogous mapping in other contexts and demographics, but, beyond that, it's just tedious self-indulgence.
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