Book Review - The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
I've been fascinated by books chronicling disease research in less-modern times. I heard about Steve Johnson's The Ghost Map and looked forward to reading about London's fight against cholera in the mid-1800's. While interesting, I didn't find this one as compelling as other books in the genre.
Johnson looks at the cholera outbreak in London during the summer of 1854. This epidemic killed an incredible number of people in just a few days, and the medical establishment had no clue as to how it was spreading in the city. The prevailing view was that it was spread via "miasma", or bad smells. But one doctor, John Snow, is convinced that the disease has another cause, and does groundbreaking research to make the case that the spread is due to bad water at a particular pump in the city. He has an ally in Henry Whitehead, a reverend in the area who is seeing a number of his parishioners dying of this vicious disease. The story moves from the actual deaths to the struggle of Snow and Whitehead to prove the cause and save lives.
I think what I found so compelling in other books like this were the stories of the victims and survivors. Johnson does cover some of that material, but the focus seems to be more on the fight between the establishment and Snow. The last quarter of the book then dwells on how all this relates to the world in which we now live, how diseases like avian flu could be the cholera of the developed world in the 21st century. While important information deserving of consideration, I found myself less driven to follow along the path he was going. Had I come in with the right mindset (pondering the implications and applications to the present time), I might have gotten more out of this...