I like epidemiology. Is that weird? I always read the articles about diseases like ebola and malaria when they appear on the New York Times science page, or in The Atlantic. I also like history, especially British history. Thus this book, about the
Johnson tells the story of the cholera epidemic well. He manages to make it suspenseful, even though we already know how it ends. He also paints a vivid portrait of mid-Victorian
But wait, there’s more! The book also provides a history of modern epidemiology, and of the waste disposal industry. Without sewers, we’d all still be getting cholera, he says. Indeed Johnson hails the
And Johnson keeps on going! In the last chapter of the book he tries to draw comparisons between the cholera epidemic of the mid-19th century and threats to modern urban life, such as bioterrorism and rogue nuclear strikes. Ack. I really didn’t want to hear about those. His point is that we can address modern threats through the same methods that Snow used on cholera: by paying attention to science instead of superstition, and by being open to new ideas, even if they go against the popular wisdom. I guess so. But really, I was mostly interested in how Snow came up with that idea about the pump handle.
(Book 45, 2007)