Monday, August 25, 2008

40. The Ghost Map

The title: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World
The author: Steven Johnson
Publication: Riverhead Books, 2006
Got it from: The library

August 25, 2008

To Whom it May Concern:

Has it really been seventeen days since my last book review? For shame! It is inexcusable. I suppose I may feebly protest that my father was visiting for a week, or that I had three Summer Reading Club parties to plan at the library and I was just exhausted. But who am I kidding? No, I suspect the real reason I haven't been able to finish a book is that I have spent too much time watching
How Clean is Your House? and reruns of North of 60. That's right. I have let television rot my mind. Also, technically speaking, I did read two books since my last entry that I have chosen for various reasons not to blog about.

I suppose you are wondering what this book, which I have just finished, is about. It is about cholera in Victorian London. Not what most people would consider a fun summer read, but then again most people don't mummify their Barbies for science projects when they're nine, either. I found this book to be a perfect summer non-fiction book: light and breezy. The author is very engaging and kind of cute too. Not that I look for that in an author, but most of the non-fiction books that I read are written by crusty old men with names like Lord Fotherington-Fusspot and Henry Tweedsworth III.

Where was I? Oh yes, cholera. It sounds very nasty, and I'm glad I wasn't suffering from it in Victorian London. You basically wither up from lack of water and waste away until you're one-third your usual size and your organs shut down because there's not enough fluid to get you blood. Worst case scenario is you go from healthy to dead in a matter of hours. Ugh.

But this book is more than just about an epidemic, it's about two men who were the first to discover that cholera was transmitted by water, not borne in the air as everyone thought. This leads to a lengthy discussion about the filth of London and the dreadful sewage management of the time. (Sewage management = leave your waste in the basement until it eventually gets in the river). I wouldn't have thought I'd ever find s--t so fascinating, but there you have it. I'm almost tempted to read that book about the Great Stink of London in 1858. It's a morbid fascination.

It's amazing to think that one simple act, the removal of a pump handle on Broad Street, saved so many lives and changed the world of public health forever. A reviewer has said, "If you read only one book about cholera this year, make it this one!" and I agree. This is a good introduction to non-fiction if you're primarily a fiction reader and I found it only bogged down slightly at the end. B+

Thank you for your patient wait for a review, and I hope I do not disappoint you next time,

Sincerely yours,


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