Review: The Ghost Map

Second post this month?!? I bet you thought you were going crazy. But, I just couldn't wait to share a little bit about this book I finished over the weekend. N understands my profound love of all things infectious diseases and epidemiology and very astutely Googled "best epidemiology books" while looking for a gift for me last year. The one that had the best reviews was The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, which I later opened up, complete with nerdy squealing, as a Christmas gift. N wins all the Christmas present points for this one.

The Ghost Map tells the tale of one of the worst Cholera epidemics to ever hit Britain, and the story of how, eventually due to this outbreak, it was discovered that cholera was transmitted by drinking contaminated water. It seems like common sense now, but Johnson talks at length about how the leading theories at the time were basically that all disease was transmitted through air, and the way you knew this was the case was how bad it smelled. Now, we're talking pre-running water Victorian England here where people were chucking their waste out the front window down onto the street, so with a little imagination, I'm sure you can guess just how bad it probably smelled everywhere in London. If smell were truly a representation of disease, surely...everyone would have been dead or heading there. And then it talks about Dr. John Snow, now known as the father of modern epidemiology, who had just that thought and put it to action. In the end, with a little help from a local reverend, Snow not only managed to prove the waterborne theory, but discovered the source of the outbreak, how the water had gotten contaminated and by whom. Finally, Snow truly revolutionized the way we understand disease spread by mapping the span of the outbreak in a way that hadn't ever been done before. Overall, I would highly recommend this book. Even if you're not a public health person, it's an incredibly fast-paced and addicting read and not that this makes any difference, but you'd probably win a bunch of points in my book!

And happy spring, friends! Hope it's starting to warm up where you are!


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