The Ghost Map

  • by Steven Johnson
  • Narrated by Alan Sklar
  • 8 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

This is a thrilling historical account of the worst cholera outbreak in Victorian London and a brilliant exploration of how Dr. John Snow's solution revolutionized the way we think about disease, cities, science, and the modern world. The Ghost Map takes place in the summer of 1854. A devastating cholera outbreak seizes London just as it is emerging as a modern city: more than two million people packed into a 10-mile circumference, a hub of travel and commerce, teeming with people from all over the world, continually pushing the limits of infrastructure that's outdated as soon as it's updated. Dr. John Snow, whose ideas about contagion had been dismissed by the scientific community, is spurred to intense action when the people in his neighborhood begin dying. With enthralling suspense, Johnson chronicles Snow's day-by-day efforts as he risks his own life to prove how the epidemic is being spread. From the dynamic thinker routinely compared to Malcolm Gladwell, E.O. Wilson, and James Gleick, The Ghost Map is a riveting story with a real-life historical hero. It brilliantly illuminates the intertwined histories of the spread of viruses, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry. These are topics that have long obsessed Johnson, and The Ghost Map is a true triumph of the kind of multidisciplinary thinking for which he's become famous. This is a book that, like the work of Jared Diamond, presents both vivid history and a powerful and provocative explanation of what it means for the world we live in.


What the Critics Say

"An illuminating and satisfying read." (Publishers Weekly)
"A formidable gathering of small facts and big ideas." (New York Times Book Review)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

It was okay until the end

This audiobook is a somewhat interesting account of the deadliest out break of Cholera in London's storied history of outbreaks. It gives an interesting account of city life for lower class Londoners of the day and insights as to how the medical and scientific community of the day operated. It gets a bit dry after the first half, and the ending of the book leaves the subject almost entirely to speculate about the future threats of bioterrorism and nuclear warfare.

The "Conclusion" and "Epilogue" of this audiobook are full of proselytizing about the greatness and moral superiority of city dwellers who are apparently more intelligent, more tolerant, more environmentally conscious, just all around better people. This was written by an inhabitant of NYC who says he would only move after 50,000 people had died in a viral catastrophe, and then only reluctantly.

He also theorizes that cities are more likely to survive a long term shortage of oil, since people in cities don't drive cars as often. This is laughable. How does food get into the city? ON A TRUCK. Also ships. How does it get from the port? ON A TRUCK. What do trucks (and most ships) need to run? Oil and gas.

There is also a good bit of detail about how viruses work and how the microbial world operates, but this books insight is greatly damaged by implying that people who believe in God are superstitious obstructionists, since God cannot be proven, but people who are not willing to betray a peaceful and spacious existence outside of cities are an affront to mother Gaia, since Gaia is DEFINITELY real. No proof required.

Other than the political proselytizing and speculation, this is an okay book.
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- Matthew Groom "Banning flags is like burning books."

a entertaining polymath book

The Ghost Map is a great combination of learning about 19th century London, about epidemiology, biostatistics, public infrastructure. All this is wrapped up as a detective story. The narration & sound is outstanding. At its core, Ghost Map tells the story of a cholera outbreak in London in the 1850s, and how an enterprising doctor & minister figured out its source. The book does tend to stumble a bit after this story is told (which consumes more than 6 hours of the 8 hour book). In the final section, the author seeks to explicate the modern implications of what John Snow accomplished in his 1850s investigation. This last section is weak when it talks about computer mapping & electronic directories, but much stronger in its discussion of avian flu & contingency planning for same. I actually recommended the book to several people at my company who are deeply immersed in the flu planning. It should be a very readable antidote to the usual stuff they have to consume,
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- D. Littman "history buff"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-11-2006
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio