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The Ghost Map

Cover 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
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A National Bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and an Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year
From Steven Johnson, the dynamic thinker routinely compared to James Gleick, Dava Sobel, and Malcolm Gladwell, The Ghost Map is a riveting page-turner about a real-life historical hero, Dr. John Snow. It's the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure — garbage removal, clean water, sewers — necessary to support its rapidly expanding population, the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure. As the cholera outbreak takes hold, a physician and a local curate are spurred to action-and ultimately solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.
In a triumph of multidisciplinary thinking, Johnson illuminates the intertwined histories and interconnectedness of the spread of disease, contagion theory, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry, offering both a riveting history and a powerful explanation of how it has shaped the world we live in.
A National Bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and an Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year
From Steven Johnson, the dynamic thinker routinely compared to James Gleick, Dava Sobel, and Malcolm Gladwell, The Ghost Map is a riveting page-turner about a real-life historical hero, Dr. John Snow. It's the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure — garbage removal, clean water, sewers — necessary to support its rapidly expanding population, the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure. As the cholera outbreak takes hold, a physician and a local curate are spurred to action-and ultimately solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.
In a triumph of multidisciplinary thinking, Johnson illuminates the intertwined histories and interconnectedness of the spread of disease, contagion theory, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry, offering both a riveting history and a powerful explanation of how it has shaped the world we live in.
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    1
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    1
Levels-
  • ATOS:
    11.2
  • Lexile:
  • Interest Level:
    UG
  • Text Difficulty:
    10 - 11

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Monday, August 28

    THE NIGHT-SOIL MEN

    IT IS AUGUST 1854, AND LONDON IS A CITY OF SCAVENGERS. Just the names alone read now like some kind of exotic zoological catalogue: bone-pickers, rag-gatherers, pure-finders, dredgermen, mud-larks, sewer-hunters, dustmen, night-soil men, bunters, toshers, shoremen. These were the London underclasses, at least a hundred thousand strong. So immense were their numbers that had the scavengers broken off and formed their own city, it would have been the fifth-largest in all of England. But the diversity and precision of their routines were more remarkable than their sheer number. Early risers strolling along the Thames would see the toshers wading through the muck of low tide, dressed almost comically in flowing velveteen coats, their oversized pockets filled with stray bits of copper recovered from the water's edge. The toshers walked with a lantern strapped to their chest to help them see in the predawn gloom, and carried an eight-foot-long pole that they used to test the ground in front of them, and to pull themselves out when they stumbled into a quagmire. The pole and the eerie glow of the lantern through the robes gave them the look of ragged wizards, scouring the foul river's edge for magic coins. Beside them fluttered the mud-larks, often children, dressed in tatters and content to scavenge all the waste that the toshers rejected as below their standards: lumps of coal, old wood, scraps of rope.

    Above the river, in the streets of the city, the pure-finders eked out a living by collecting dog shit (colloquially called "pure") while the bone-pickers foraged for carcasses of any stripe. Below ground, in the cramped but growing network of tunnels beneath London's streets, the sewer-hunters slogged through the flowing waste of the metropolis. Every few months, an unusually dense pocket of methane gas would be ignited by one of their kerosene lamps and the hapless soul would be incinerated twenty feet below ground, in a river of raw sewage.

    The scavengers, in other words, lived in a world of excrement and death. Dickens began his last great novel, Our Mutual Friend, with a father-daughter team of toshers stumbling across a corpse floating in the Thames, whose coins they solemnly pocket. "What world does a dead man belong to?" the father asks rhetorically, when chided by a fellow tosher for stealing from a corpse. "'Tother world. What world does money belong to? This world." Dickens' unspoken point is that the two worlds, the dead and the living, have begun to coexist in these marginal spaces. The bustling commerce of the great city has conjured up its opposite, a ghost class that somehow mimics the status markers and value calculations of the material world. Consider the haunting precision of the bone-pickers' daily routine, as captured in Henry Mayhew's pioneering 1844 work, London Labour and the London Poor:

    It usually takes the bone-picker from seven to nine hours to go over his rounds, during which time he travels from 20 to 30 miles with a quarter to a half hundredweight on his back. In the summer he usually reaches home about eleven of the day, and in the winter about one or two. On his return home he proceeds to sort the contents of his bag. He separates the rags from the bones, and these again from the old metal (if he be luckly enough to have found any). He divides the rags into various lots, according as they are white or coloured; and if he have picked up any pieces of canvas or sacking, he makes these also into a separate parcel. When he has finished the sorting he takes his several lots to the ragshop or the marine-store dealer, and realizes upon them whatever they may be...

Table of Contents-
  • The Ghost MapPreface

    Monday, August 28
    The Night-Soil Men

    Saturday, September 2
    Eyes Sunk, Lips Dark Blue

    Sunday, September 3
    The Investigator

    Monday, September 4
    That Is To Say, Jo Has Not Yet Died

    Tuesday. September 5
    All Smell Is Disease

    Wednesday, September 6
    Building The Case

    Friday, September 8
    The Pump Handle

    Conclusion
    The Ghost Map

    Epilogue
    Broad Street Revisited

    Author's Note
    Acknowledgments
    Appendix: Notes on Further Reading
    Notes
    Bibliography
    Index

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 21, 2006
    On August 28, 1854, working-class Londoner Sarah Lewis tossed a bucket of soiled water into the cesspool of her squalid apartment building and triggered the deadliest outbreak of cholera in the city's history. In this tightly written page-turner, Johnson (Everything Bad Is Good for You
    ) uses his considerable skill to craft a story of suffering, perseverance and redemption that echoes to the present day. Describing a city and culture experiencing explosive growth, with its attendant promise and difficulty, Johnson builds the story around physician John Snow. In the face of a horrifying epidemic, Snow (pioneering developer of surgical anesthesia) posited the then radical theory that cholera was spread through contaminated water rather than through miasma, or smells in the air. Against considerable resistance from the medical and bureaucratic establishment, Snow persisted and, with hard work and groundbreaking research, helped to bring about a fundamental change in our understanding of disease and its spread. Johnson weaves in overlapping ideas about the growth of civilization, the organization of cities, and evolution to thrilling effect. From Snow's discovery of patient zero to Johnson's compelling argument for and celebration of cities, this makes for an illuminating and satisfying read. B&w illus.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 26, 2007
    The idiosyncratic thinker and cultural historian Johnson leaps from trumpeting video games (in his previous book Everything Bad Is Good for You
    ) to uncovering the history of murderous cholera infestations in London and the scientific research that revealed the microbial origins of the outbreaks. Sklar reads Johnson's engaging book with a deep, measured baritone that is the embodiment of solidly backed reasonability. Sklar makes each word sound as if it has been chipped into a block of marble, there to rest for all eternity. This is not always conducive to following the flow of Johnson's narrative, but Sklar does well with his voice what Johnson seeks to do with his book: insert a slip into the history book, adding the mundane deaths of working souls and the audacious efforts of scientists into the story of the European march of progress. Simultaneous release with
    the Riverhead hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 21).

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The Ghost Map
The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Steven Johnson
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