The Ghost Map is the sort of book that could be filed in a number of sections of a bookstore or library. Its wide-ranging approach convinced me that I need to read everything else Johnson writes. It’s nominally the history of the London cholera epidemic of 1854, and of the two men who traced it to its source, took action that may have mitigated the epidemic’s scope, and transformed medical understanding of cholera. It also provides some historical context for the modern reader to grasp some of the unsavory essentials of mid-19th century London life, and draws some frightening parallels with the infrastructures that evolve in shanty cities today. The Ghost Map illuminates how both the epidemic and the understanding of it were uniquely possible with urban population densities. It examines the role of effective information design in overcoming resistance to truth, as well as why fallacies are sometimes so hard to overturn. And it discusses how our population is increasingly living in urban-density environments, and what that implies for humanity’s future.
The Ghost Map is smart and ambitious, but it’s also remarkably accessible and readable, even gripping. Johnson impressively juggles human and intellectual interest throughout.
My only real criticism is that I wish the endnotes were footnoted in the text. Since they’re not, reading The Ghost Map required two bookmarks, one for my place in the text, and the other to for my place in the endnotes. You will note the underlying implication: even the endnotes were (often) interesting.
needs more demons? not a bit of it.