The Ghost Map

The Ghost Map

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

eBook - 2006
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"An account of the worst cholera outbreak in Victorian London--and an exploration of how Dr. John Snow's solution revolutionized the way we think about disease in cities. In the summer of 1854, a devastating cholera outbreak seized London just as it was emerging as a modern city: more than 2 million people packed into a ten-mile circumference, a hub of travel and commerce, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated. Author Johnson chronicles Snow's day-by-day efforts as he risked his own life to prove how the epidemic was being spread. When he created the map that traced the pattern of outbreak back to its source, Dr. Snow didn't just solve a pressing medical riddle--he established a precedent for the way modern city-dwellers, city planners, physicians, and public officials think about the spread of disease and the development of the modern urban environment.--From publisher description."--From source other than the Library of Congress.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 2006
ISBN: 9781429501316
Characteristics: 299 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm

Related Resources


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Dec 12, 2017

For me, the focus on Dr. John Snow and Reverend Henry Whitehead shows how those who would fix social problems often have to both explore new methods and fight entrenched beliefs. Authorities were firmly convinced that “miasma” was the cause of disease; they knew that the bad smells in the poor parts of town were the source of the pestilence. Thus, the Board of Health Committee didn’t accept the waterborne theory because “their field of vision had been framed by the boundaries of miasma months before, when Benjamin Holt first outlined the committee’s objectives. This blanket dismissal of Snow’s theory seems like a colossal folly to us now, but these were not unreasonable men. They were not hacks, working for Victorian special-interest groups. They were not blinded by politics or personal ambition. They were blinded, instead, by an idea.” That's a classic example of learning from the mistakes of the past, it seems to me.

Apr 11, 2017

When I first heard this title, I was, like, cool, a book about how ghosts map out how to haunt people! But, actually, it's about a cholera outbreak, which is not cool at all. Some other disease books include "The Great Mortality" (about the plague) and "The Hot Zone" (about ebola). Steven Johnson also wrote "Everything Bad is Good For You."

Feb 08, 2017

This was an interesting, yet difficult, book to read. The history nerd in me knew a little about the Broad Street Pump calamity in Victorian England. I also knew about Snow's work inn finding the source of the cholera epidemic of 1854, but not about the role played by Reverend Whitehead. I think I would have enjoyed it more had Johnson just stuck with just the history and not spent so much time on a soapbox about the social indifference to London's poorer inhabitants.

lbarkema Jan 05, 2016

This book was an engrossing look at cholera and it's effects, specifically on an outbreak in Victorian London in the neighborhood of what is currently Soho, where two local men figured out the cause and spread of this incredibly deadly disease. I enjoyed the history bits of dirty London and the housing there, as well as the science/medical information about cholera and more of the public health side of things. The reason I knocked it down a tad is for the fact of the epilogue. I don't think it was necessary at all, and I agree with reviewers who thought it should have been a separate essay that Johnson should have submitted somewhere else and not in this book. While he made some good points, it just didn't seem to fit and felt a bit like a rant. I actually thought that the ending to the chapter preceding the epilogue would have been an excellent ending for the content of this book. Overall, I recommend it for an interesting look at the time period and this horrible disease, but just skip the epilogue.

JCLGreggW Feb 02, 2015

An absolutely riveting tale of a cholera outbreak in a London neighborhood in 1854 and, more importantly, the story of how science mapped, tracked, and used reasoning to find and eliminate the outbreak. So it's a true story that's part mystery, part history, part sociological, and ALL fascinating. Steven Johnson weaves a magical tale that will keep you turning pages well into the night. (And you'll know more about Victorian London sewage and water tables than you'll ever think you'll need.)

nftaussig Dec 02, 2014

Steven Johnson's book The Ghost Map describes the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, how John Snow traced it to contaminated water in the Broad Street Pump, and why his evidence that cholera was a water borne disease was dismissed at the time by the medical establishment. The medical history of these events is better described by Sandra Hempel in The Medical Detective. However, Johnson's interest is broader. He chose to describe this epidemic since he is interested in how the evidence gathered by Snow and subsequent events (the Great Stink of London, the building of London's sewer system) led the medical establishment of the time to discard its own ideas about disease transmission and accept Snow's hypothesis that cholera is a water borne disease. Johnson's interest in the epidemic also has to do with the fact that the sanitation measures introduced in response to the Great Stink of London eliminated cholera from the city and accelerated urban growth, which up to that point had been limited by disease in unsanitary cities (a point he does not make clear). The book is worth reading. However, Johnson does a poor job of tying the epilogue about the trend toward urbanism in with the rest of the book.

Oct 31, 2014

A good narrative on cholera outbreaks in London and the men who proposed and discovered that it was a water borne pathogen. This book shows how using disciplined science to overrule the current beliefs benefits all. Will be interesting in 50 years to see which current beliefs based on poor science are overthrown. Worth reading if you are interested.

SpringAltman Jun 27, 2014

This book chronicles the 1854 outbreak of cholera in London and a few exceptional men determined to find the cause and how it changed the modern world

May 08, 2014

This book is fantastic! It's a great factual work describing both cholera itself and the day by day events of the epidemic and the decision-making processes after it. Even more, it shows a real example of how our pre-existing opinions can be hard to shake even when it matters so much.

Apr 20, 2014

A pointed example of mankind's battle against its greatest enemy, well-meaning bone-headedness, and also the story of John Snow, who has a strong claim to be humanity's greatest-ever benefactor, Ghost Map is a thoughtful book, damaged by clumsy writing. The author rambles, airs theories that while interesting, could be better supported, and drops into casual English, possibly with the aim of being "accessible": using "you" instead of "one", "sh*t" instead of "feces", and so on. But clearly, Johnson has it in him to do better. One more draft, with the help of a forthright copy editor, would have done the trick.

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

SpringAltman Jun 27, 2014

SpringAltman thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


Add a Summary

SpringAltman Jun 27, 2014

A cholera outbreak in London causes many to look for the orgin and how to cure the world of this awful epidemic


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Subject Headings


Find it at PPL

To Top