If you want to read something that will take you completely out of the present world and its problems, let me recommend The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson, which happens to be the book the Field Notes Book Group will be reading on January 16 from 11 to 12:30 at the library.
The Ghost Map is about cholera, a disease that ravaged the Victorian world and, in some of its more deadly outbreaks, killed dozens of people in a single day, wiping out whole buildings’ worth of inhabitants in weeks. Victorian medicine was hardly worthy of the name, and it was terrifying to face a disease that seemed to spread through the very air and to pick and choose who would live and who would die. That it was an excruciatingly painful disease, even if sufferers didn’t last long, made the matter worse.
But this is more than just a book about a horrifying disease that, while not usually found in the industrialized western nations, still haunts other parts of the world (Haiti, since the earthquake of 2010, continues to suffer from a cholera outbreak). It’s also a medical detective story, a study in how one brilliant scientist, Jon Snow, managed to buck the prevailing scientific wisdom and discover how cholera spread, and how to prevent its spread.
Well-written with a wealth of details, The Ghost Map brings history to life and raises questions of how so many intelligent people could be so wrong about something that now seems so obvious. As a historical read, as a scientific study and as an absorbing look at human progress and the interrelationships between industrialization, disease and evolution, it is a fascinating read, and I look forward to the discussions it will inspire in our book group on January 16.
Oh, and by the way, for anyone who’s joining our Read Deeper, Read Wider, Read Harder 2016 challenge, this book would definitely qualify as a book about science, one of the categories in the challenge.