The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map

Written by Steven Johnson, Narrated by Alan Sklar

Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read

Genre: Non-fiction – Medicine and History

The Ghost Map follows Dr. John Snow on his quest to discover the cause of a terrible cholera outbreak in Victorian England. Johnson makes investigative epidemiology so interesting that I could almost see it dramatized (and fictionalized) into a TV show – people DO love their investigative TV! 🙂 But that’s beside the point, I guess. At the time of this outbreak in 1854, the popular theory for the spread of cholera was miasma – deathly air that carried disease. After a LOT of investigative footwork, Snow drew a map of the cholera outbreak, demonstrating that the pattern followed streets that led to a particular well (the Broad Street pump) rather than following a circular pattern you’d expect with the spread of bad air. This map, and the investigation leading up to its creation, revolutionized epidemiology. In fact, many consider Snow the “first epidemiologist.” 

I really enjoyed this book. The writing was engaging (it had a few boring parts in the end when Johnson was describing the map in great detail – I think that may be a problem with listening to the audio book rather than actually reading it, though). The subject was fascinating. Sklar did a good job of narrating the book, and except for the very end with the description of the map, I was quite pleased with the book’s audio version. If you have any interest in epidemiology, or the history of medicine, I highly recommend this book.

9 thoughts on “The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

  1. This sounds great! I always found epidemiology to be hands down the most boring part of my medical studies but presenting it in this way, as an investigation, sounds fascinating. It's interesting that you had it as an audiobook, too. I've never tried non-fiction audiobooks but it might be a perfect option for me. Reading non-fiction often sends me to sleep after only a small dose, but I manage to listen to podcasts and non-fiction radio shows no problem.


  2. I don't usually read non-fiction, but this sounds like an interesting book! The advances made in science and medicine at that time have always been interesting to me, so I might have to pick this up someday! Great review!


  3. I saw Johnson on Book Tv discussing this book. It looks so very interesting. Snow was indeed an innovative thinker who helped advance human knowledge in an unusual way.


  4. That's one reason I really like listening to non-fiction on audio. I just don't read non-fiction very quickly. But I have much less trouble getting through it quickly in audio.


  5. I had a class about communication (my undergrad school was convinced engineers are all unable to speak!) and the section on good graphics talked about this case. Definitely an interesting story!


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