'The Ghost Map' - Book Review

My recent reading of "Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson inspired me to re-read his brilliant The Ghost Map: The story of London's most terrifying epidemic -- and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world. Both a grandiose title and a big claim - and not inaccurate. I used to claim that it reads with the tension of a murder mystery - even though you know the outcome. On this second reading I was astonished at the immense amount of technical information he goes through. And not about inherently exciting subjects: an incredible number of deaths, water pumps, sewers, cesspools, diseases, and informational maps. The success of this book suggests I wasn't the only person who found his coverage of these topics fascinating: he lays out the state of science at the time (a deep belief that bad smells aka "miasma" spread disease) and the uphill battle that John Snow and Henry Whitehead had to prove that cholera was in fact a waterborne disease. That idea of Snow's was incredibly radical at the time, and Whitehead went from being his greatest adversary to being his greatest supporter.

Possibly the best non-fiction book ever written about any aspect of science, I cannot recommend this one enough. In the last chapter he does some speculating about the future of science based on what he's written and that part is a bit off-key, but ... seriously, read this. It's pure genius.