Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The Ghost Map (Book #2)

The Ghost Map (Steven Johnson, 2006) is an account of an 1854 cholera outbreak in a London neighborhood and how two men--a local curate and a brilliant doctor--rigorously proved that the source of the disease was contaminated water from a particular well and not foul miasmas, which were still the scientific community's favored explanation for cholera and similar diseases. It's a fascinating, readable book, and a good reminder for me as a historical fiction writer of just how differently my characters would've viewed the world. Viruses and bacteria are simply part of my reality--just like plate tectonics, evolution, and a whole host of other things my turn-of-the-19th-century characters would've had no concept of. I know all that, but every once in awhile it's nice to be reminded.

I recommend this book highly, with one caveat--you might want to skip the last chapter where he enumerates the threats facing modern cities. I could've done without the description of exactly what a one-megaton nuke detonated at the epicenter of the cholera outbreak would do to modern London, especially since there's not a damn thing I can do personally to reduce the odds of such a weapon falling into the wrong hands. I think I'm going to go read something nice and escapist now, maybe with some fluffy bunnies and kittens, just to see if I can stave off nuclear nightmares...

1 comment:

Tess said...

Oooh - that sounds fascinating. Especially one half of my family tree is based in East London. I think my overloaded bookshelves are going to ask I stop reading your blog!!