Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

I discovered this book at Maggie's blog:
Having a background in biology it looked really interesting.

From the flap:

It is the summer of 1854. Cholera has seized London with unprecedented intensity. A metropolis of more than 2 million people, London is just emerging as a one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure necessary to support its dense population - garbage removal, clean water, sewers - the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure.

As their neighbors begin dying, two men are spurred to action: the Reverend Henry Whitehead, whose faith in a benevolent God is shaken by the seemingly random nature of the victims, and Dr. John Snow, whose ideas about contagion have been dismissed by the scientific community, but who is convinced that he knows how the disease is being transmitted. In a riveting day-by-day account, The Ghost Map chronicles the outbreak’s spread and the desperate efforts to put an end to the epidemic - and solve the most pressing medical riddle of the age.

The Ghost Map is the chilling story of urban terror, but it is also a story of how scientific understanding can advance in the most hostile of environments. In a triumph of dynamic, multidisciplinary thinking, Steven Johnson examines the epidemic from the microbial level to the human level to the urban level. Brilliantly illuminating the intertwined histories of the spread of disease, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry, Johnson presents both vivid history and a powerful, provocative explanation of how it has shaped the world we live in.

My Review: I have mixed feelings about this book which is why I have not reviewed it yet. I loved the science part of it. There seemed to me to be a lot of conjecture on the author's part of what the different people did and felt and said on the different days. Another thing that bothered me was the amount of redundancy. I made myself stick with it past 80 pages because up till that point I almost put it down several times. Once it got to the science part I was okay but I expected to see more "hard" science. Microbiology was my favorite class in graduate school and I remember learning about Dr. John Snow and how he is credited for being the first epidemiologist. I really did enjoy learning more past the basic facts I learned for a test. The story did start pulling me along once it got past the introduction. I could have dealt without ever reading the epilogue though. Back to the redundancy thing. Overall this is a good book and I am happy that I read it. I would like to read more books "like it" meaning nonfiction books about scientific discoveries with including information on the lives of the people (if that makes sense at all). :)

P.S. I read "The Double Helix" by James Watson in school and really liked it. It is the human story behind the discovery of the shape of DNA plus the science without being boring. The movie is good too.


maggie moran said...

Oh, I'm sorry you didn't like it. Don't guess you will be reading anything else I write about... :(

I liked the story within the story, but I did think the epilogue a little preachy.

Maybe, you might like The Hot Zone by Richard Preston instead?

Brittanie said...

Overall I think I did like it. I will most definately keep reading your reviews. Thank you for the recommendation. I will look into it. :)

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