Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Ghost Map (4)

Let me just say that this was not a fast read; I started reading it a long time ago and finally finished it this morning. "The Ghost Map" was written by Steven Johnson and is the story of a cholera outbreak in London in the late 1800s. It is also the story of two amazing men; John Snow and Henry Whitehead who painstakingly tracked down the source of the disease, basically uncovering the very idea of water-borne illness.

They had a terrible, uphill battle fighting for acknowledgment of their theory against the current notion of "miasma" which essentially meant that most Victorians believed in a sort of vapor and odor that transmitted disease and scoffed openly at the idea that cholera or anything else could be caught from drinking contaminated water. As I said; it is not a quick read. I can be rather technical at times and there were some long passages that honestly made me sleepy but I suggest that you give this book a chance anyway because the subject is fascinating and enlightening. There were times when I couldn't put it down, and I think if I had more of a background in science I would find it far more compelling. At the very least I think this book has a couple of merits no matter what your background; 1. it sings the praises of two heroes of history who by their dogged persistence saved London from future outbreaks of a deadly and deeply unpleasant disease, and; 2. On nights when sleep eludes but one is in fact tired; it will not fail in some of it's longer, more technical passages to lower one's eyelids slowly but surely.

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