My mom gifted me Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map for my birthday this year and I cracked it open while on a trans-Atlantic flight to London. Johnson's nauseating descriptions of city life in the mid 1800s, of cesspools and open graves, made me so grateful for our modern waste management systems. His careful unfolding of overlapping urban lives around London's Broad Street pump during the hot summer of 1854's deadly cholera outbreak illuminates how one devastated neighborhood helps unlock cholera's mystery and saves millions.
Although some parts dragged and others seemed redundant, The Ghost Map shows how early city planning and the sound scientific research of Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead made cities more livable and safe. It gave me a new appreciation for clean drinking water and how long it once took to understand the transmission and treatment of a deadly disease. The crowded sidewalks of those Soho Streets and the paved embankments along the Thames over 150 years later show The Ghost Map's lasting legacy and make me so very glad I am unlikely to suffer from death by cholera.Snow's map marks each cholera victim with a black bar. This geographic representation helped prove that contracting the disease was connected to the Broad Street water pump rather than the foul stench in the air.