The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

1024 Words5 Pages
Steven Johnson is an accomplished author who tells a compelling, well written and informative book, The Ghost Map, which tells an intriguing story of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London while at the same time provides a wide array of information surrounding the thoughts and beliefs of the majority of the current society.

This book follows an esteemed doctor and a local clergyman who, together, are the heart of an investigation to solve the mystery of the cholera epidemic. In 1854 London was ravaged by a terrible outbreak of cholera, where within the span of mere weeks over five hundred people in the Soho district died. London, at the time, was a city of around two and a half million people, all crammed into a small area with no system
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…Veritable herds [livestock] would stream through the city….” Pg27

Johnson chronicles the journeys and the lives of Dr. John Snow, Henry Whitehead, William Farr, Benjamin Hall, and Edwin Chadwick, all of whom play pivotal roles in the decisions around sanitation in the city. These characters provide a depth of different perspectives on the outbreak and the conflict between them helps drive the story.
Snow, a man from the modest home of a labourer, uncommon roots for the men in his profession, made exceptional discoveries which were found by using the most novel thinking and common surveyor’s techniques. He was the first to consider the waterborne theory of cholera and looked at the outbreak from a street and a birds-eye view which in the end allowed him to see the patterns of the outbreak. Whitehead was the local curate who had a first-hand look at the lives of those who were affected by this deadly pathogen. It was he who, spurred on by disprove Snow’s claims, found the crucial evidence that in the end solidified Snow’s theory. Farr was a man with a similar background to Snow, who collected much of the raw statistical data used by Snow to develop and then support his theory. Farr’s information also lead Snow to map out patterns of cholera deaths in the St. James region, creating the “Ghost Map”, an instrumental tool in the defense of his theory.

Johnson writes of the conflict that arises between
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