The Ghost Map: The story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World

“It is August 1854, and London is a city of scavengers. Just the names alone read now like some kind of exotic zoological cataglogue: blone-pickers, rag-gatherers, pure-finders, dredgermen, mud-larks, sewers-hunters, dustmen, night-soil men, bunters, toshers, and shoremen.” (The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson)

If you have any sort of familiarity with this blog, you might be surprised to discover that I’ve suddenly taken up an interest in bacteria – and your reaction would be rather similar to my own. Let’s just say that this is one of those happy times where a book club selection gets you out of your comfort zone and into a place you never thought you’d find yourself.There are many other quotations that I could have used for the above, but I decided to spare my reader’s stomachs from a rather descriptive account of cholera. This is not to say that I didn’t like the book – in fact, quite the opposite is true – but I must admit that if you had seen my face as I read the more gruesome parts, you might have been deterred from engaging in the act yourself.

I made a very important discovery this semester: I have been overlooking non-fiction my whole life. I don’t exactly remember where my dislike of informational texts came from (my intuition is my much-hated high-school history text book and its kin), but the multi-pronged attack from both grad school and my own reading has, I think, finally cured me of my misperception. Non-fiction has a difficult reputation, especially because its very name indicates that it is somehow subservient to fiction, and I can’t help but feel a little ashamed that I let myself be biased against it for so long. So, in the interest of making my reading more democratic in the upcoming year, I am going to make a concerted effort to include informational reading – and if anyone has any suggestions or general familiarity with the genre, I would heartily welcome your comments!

Beverage: Make sure that whatever beverage you choose to accompany this work is either A: Well-boiled or B: alcohol – believe me, as you read about the spread of cholera, you will not want to be drinking plain old water.

Reminds me of… works like Salt and Cod by Mark Kurlansky, because the book describes the history of a relatively small discovery in terms of its long-lasting consequences.

*Purely coincidentally, I ended up getting two books on cholera from the library this week – I am interested to see how this non-fiction reading of it will affect my take on Love in the Time of Cholera. Stay tuned to find out*


3 thoughts on “The Ghost Map: The story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World

  1. If you liked “Salt”, you will love “Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light” by Jane Brox. Another great non-fiction book from my recent reads is “Warriors Don’t Cry” by Melba Beals. How do you feel about biographies?

    • Even though I am ashamed that I haven’t finished the Autobiography of Mark Twain yet, I think that I do like biographies. I remember you recommending “Brilliant” before, and now that it is on record on the blog, I suppose that I have no excuse not to read it. Will also recommended “Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea” and Bill Bryson, so I have my work cut out for me! Perhaps this will be a non-fiction themed summer after all.

  2. I was going to mention Bill Bryson also–“A Walk in the Woods” is a good summer read! And my mother found Mark Twain’s Autobiography very hard going, so don’t feel bad that you haven’t finished it.

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