The Ghost Map

    A peculiar phenomenon follows me when I walk into a book store: Books speak to me. I’m not schizo. I don’t literally hear words such as, “You hoo, here I am.” On the other hand, I might as well, since the end result is the same: I buy them. Could you resist a book that spoke to you?
I am magnetically drawn to certain volumes and can’t explain why. When this happens, I simply know to buy. Such was the case recently at one of my favorite independent bookstores, Warwick’s while I was in La Jolla, California. For synergistic reasons that became clear to me later, The Ghost Map, a book I’d never heard of nor expected to have any interest in, was the one that yelped at me. The choice was oddly prescient considering current events as well as an unexpected encounter on the plane to Southern California.
You see, The Ghost Map is all about the great cholera epidemic of London in 1854, and the day I bought it was the day Swine Flu jumped across the border into the United States and declared a pandemic – only when I handed my credit card to the clerk, I didn’t know any of that news.

Written by author Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map reads like a CSI episode plays. The twist is: It is the 1800’s, and a true account of what happened. It is both mystery solved and science lesson about taboo subject matters (poop and pomposity). It is also rich food for thought about the future of cities. Anyone watching the Academy Award winning  film Slumdog Millionaire is viscerally aware of slums and sewage. The challenges mega-cities around the world face today echos the conditions of London 150 years ago.  Only with air travel, the potential for spreading disease is far greater.
All good stories have a hero, which is where the leadership link of this blog ties into a determined Sherlock Holmes, a physician named  Dr. John Snow.  With no understanding of microbiology, remember, it didn’t “exist” in those days,  Dr. Snow figured out how the cholera was spreading even if he didn’t understand why. Equally astonishing,  he was able to persuade London authorities to act on his conclusions in spite of the fact that the prevailing theories were completely contrary to Dr. Snow’s thesis. As a result, he saved thousands of lives. I encourage you. Check it out.

And what about you? Am I the only one, or is this how you, too, buy books?

As for the “other” prescient event that happened in relationship to The Ghost Map, that’s a story for another post.