The Bottom Line: This was an era when drinking water could be hazardous to one’s health. Dr. Snow’s forward thinking about germs and how they are passed on was at odds with the scientific community at the time. While it is obvious today, the poor disposal of human waste contributed to the unsanitary condition that caused the epidemic. Although this book was somewhat repetitive and slow in places, I found it to be informative. In fact, the information in this book has come up time and time again in other books, films, and conversations. The brief biographies about Snow and Whitehead were fascinating as was the shift away from miasma theory. Cholera is still a problem in some parts of the world today making this is a very timely topic. Recommended for those who enjoy medical mysteries and history. Also, recommended for students of public health or medicine. The book could benefit from better illustrations, especially of the famous map.
Book Club Notes: While the group agreed that this was an informative book, many took a pass on this one. Talking about human waste isn’t for everyone. Overall, this was an interesting discussion, and we agreed that we all learned something by reading this book. For book clubs wishing to discuss this book, there are discussion questions provided at Penguin. Also, be sure to check out the “Notes” section at the back of the book as well for more information. Finally, I ended up searching online for a better map for discussion purposes as the one in the book wasn’t adequate. Two sites that contain useful information are Cholera and the Thames and Professor John Mackenzie's GIS Analyses of Snow's Map.
Details: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. Hardcover published by Riverhead Books in 2006. 320 p. ISBN: 978-1594482694