The Ghost Map
The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic-- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern WorldBook - 2006
From Library Staff
The Ghost Map has everything a great medical history book should have: compelling history, insightful analysis, plus a detailed description of exactly what the disease in question (in this case, cholera) does to the human body. Outstanding.
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if we are to keep alive the model of sustainable metropolitan life that Snow and Whitehead helped make possible 150 years ago, it is incumbent on us to do, at the very least, two things. The first is to embrace—as a matter of philosophy and public policy—the insights of science, in particular the fields that descend from the great Darwinian revolution that began only a matter of years after Snow’s death: genetics, evolutionary theory, environmental science. Our safety depends on being able to predict the evolutionary path that viruses and bacteria will take in the coming decades, just as safety in Snow’s day depended on the rational application of the scientific method to public-health matters. Superstition, then and now, is not just a threat to the truth. It’s also a threat to national security...
Chadwick helped solidify, if not outright invent, an ensemble of categories that we now take for granted: that the state should directly engage in protecting the health and well-being of its citizens, particularly the poorest among them; that a centralized bureaucracy of experts can solve societal problems that free markets either exacerbate or ignore; that public-health issues often require massive state investment in infrastructure or prevention.
One study of mortality rates from 1842 had found that the average “gentleman” died at forty-five, while the average tradesman died in his mid-twenties. The laboring classes fared even worse: in Bethnal Green, the average life expectancy for the working poor was sixteen years. These numbers are so shockingly low because life was especially deadly for young children. The 1842 study found that 62 percent of all recorded deaths were of children under five.
Victorian medical refrain was, essentially: Take a few hits of opium and call me in the morning.
By 1851, the subdistrict of Berwick Street on the west side of Soho was the most densely populated of all 135 subdistricts that made up Greater London, with 432 people to the acre. (Even with its skyscrapers, Manhattan today only houses around 100 per acre.)
London in 1854 was a Victorian metropolis trying to make do with an Elizabethan public infrastructure.
[I]f our current prospects seem bleak, we need only think of Snow and Whitehead on the streets of London so many years ago. The scourge of cholera then seemed intractable, too, and superstition seemed destined to rule the day. But in the end, or at least as close to the end as we've gotten so far, the forces of reason won out. The pump handle was removed; the map was drawn; the miasma theory was put to rest; the sewers built; the water ran clean. This is the ultimate solace that the Broad Street outbreak offers our current predicament, with all its unique challenges. However profound the threats are that confront us today, they are solvable, if we acknowledge the underlying problem, if we listen to science and not superstition, if we keep a channel open for dissenting voices that might actually have real answers... So let's get on with it.
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