Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Ghost Map (copy)

Innocence and ignorance opened the door to death. It is almost poetic that the same home, the same household, the same family even, would open and close the door to the worst cholera epidemic ever seen on England’s shores. How could the Lewis family have known?

On a blustery English morning in 1854, an infant girl was born to Thomas and Sarah Lewis. Baby Lewis was rosier, hardier, and—as her parents prayed—more determined to stay within the realm of the living. The previous year the Lewis’s suffered the loss of their infant baby boy. This baby girl showed promise.

In late August, healthy Baby Lewis developed diarrhea. During breaks in her daughter’s illness, Sarah dutifully cleaned her diapers in tepid water, and slung one bucket out the back window and the worst of it she took to the cellar and threw into the cesspool. Not an unusual practice in Victorian London’s Soho neighborhood.

On the 28th, after suffering three straight days, Baby Lewis began to show signs of improvement. Sarah thought to give her chap-lipped baby a little water from the refreshing pump just 10 feet from the Lewis’s front door on 40 Broad Street. Four hours later the baby’s symptoms violently returned. The doctor was called, but it was too late for Baby Lewis; her last diaper was filled with clear liquid and little pieces of rice.

In the late summer air of London’s Victorian streets, many professionals believed miasma to be the culprit. Dr. John Snow had his doubts. Snow had worked with gases, becoming the first professional anesthesiologist to use ether safely. He believed for a gas to be effective it must be delivered to the lungs in concentrated doses.

Before microbes were discovered, poisoned miasma was blamed for many a disease. For instance, the mosquito born malaria was thought to be caused by “bad air” for it derives its name from the Italian “mal aria.” It was the same year as England’s cholera plague that an Italian discovered the comma shaped microbe “Vibrio cholera.” Unfortunately, the Italian’s paper on the microscopic parasite went unnoticed.

Snow, along with another amateur sleuth, The Reverend Henry Whitehead, proved the disease to be waterborne. Both men went door-to-door during and after the tragedy ministering and asking the question. Did you drink water from the Broad Street pump?

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson will have you unraveling the mysteries of a Victorian enigma.

Note: Fifth book for Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge.


April said...

Wow, this sounds like a very interesting book!!

SevenVillageIdiarts said...

Wow, I was just studying my ancestors and many of them immigrated to the US around 1856-1858. I am really grateful! I think living in the cities in Europe might not have been the best pace to "grow up!"

Kim said...

What an interesting sounding book. I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog and am awarding you a couple of awards. Stop by my blog and pick them up!

maggie moran said...

It is April! I went through a plague phase in 2005, and while I knew about this book I really didn't want to read yet another mass destruction. This was really more of a mystery and how to persuade those in authority to look at the correct information. Good Stuff! ;)

Or, "come-of-age" too, 7VI! ;D Neat about your geneaology search. I hope you blog about your findings. :)

Aw, Kim! That is so nice! I'm away on vacation so getting a connection has been rather spotty. But, I promise when I get back to thank you tremendously! :D

Brittanie said...

This sounds like a book I need to look for and read. I always liked hearing the history of science. I took 3 microbiology classes in college and they ended up being my favorite. Have you read the nonfiction book about the discvery of the shape of DNA? Its called The Double Helix by James Watson.

Nikki in Niagara said...

This sounds wonderful! I've read a few Victorian medical themed books this year and am very interested in this type of thing. Will definitely put it on the tbr list.

Vasilly said...

Sounds like a great book. I'm putting it on my TBR list. I hope you're having a good weekend.

Adjective Queen said...

I've read this one. Some of the descriptions are a little hard to take while reading at the breakfast table. But it was fascinating.

Maggie, your relentless reading amazes me! How do you do it? ;-)

Medbie said...

That sounds fascinating!

Isabel said...

I like reading about books that present the past in realistic manners. Many historical novels gloss over the nastiness of the age. I like flushable toilets and daily showers and washing machines and tap water.

Stella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stella said...

Just goes to show you that the obvious, many times, is overlooked. Years ago, our well water was contaminated by bacteria. The health department tested it repeatedly, after we chlorinated it repeatedly, before we finally eliminated the problem. But the problem was identified by my husband, not the health department. It seems that the county code, until after our (and others') experience, never required a sealed cap on private wells. Once we had one put on, the problem of contamination disappeared. And what was the source of that bacteria? The very thing that was right in front of us when the water started to smell funny inside the house and we went outside and removed the cap from the well pipe. A kazillion earwigs were nesting under the cap, and my husband said he bet their "droppings" and dead carcasses had something to do with our problem.

Debi said...

Wow...I MUST get my hands on this book! Sounds truly fascinating! (And for whatever reason I seem to be on this "disease kick" in my non-fiction reading lately, so all the better!) Thanks, Maggie!

Jeane said...

Sounds like a very interesting book, but one that would require a strong stomach!

Gentle Reader said...

This sounds really interesting. I've always been interested in that period of history, and have read about how Semmelweis and other doctors started to understand germs by observing childbed fever patients--it's all very interesting! Thanks for this :)

Lori Thornton said...

Congratulations. You've just been awarded a Blogging Friends Forever award.

By the way, this books sounds great!

Keetha said...

Oh my. That sounds heartbreaking yet so interesting at the same time. I may need to add that to my tbr list.

Sharon said...

I think I'll have to add this to my list of books to buy! Thanks!onloep

maggie moran said...

Brittanie - I think you will be pleasantly suprised upon reading The Ghost Map. I picked it up for a science list I'm working on with two others, and our goal is non-dry nonfiction. :) Thanks for the lead on Double Helix.

Nicola - Me too! Medicine was in a mystical state in Victorian times. Just who was the first one to think of cupping!?! :)

Vasilly - I'm so tired and want to sleep that the weekends just aren't long enough. ;D Hope all is wellwith you.

Adjective Queen - How do you feel GM stacks up against other plague books? It is entertaining, but are there other books on say yellow fever which may be more sciencie and fun to read? I'm all about adult books for this committee I'm on and I'm drawing a blank on YA available except for fiction such as Fever. You have boys, right? Those little guys with built in yucky/cool radars. ;D

The trick to reading a book or two a week is Booklist. I order and read those starred books the magazine suggest. Good books keep me motivated. :)

It is, Medbie!

Ain't that the truth, WW100! Those Victorian doctors couldn't wait for a man to get sick so they could hurry the death process! ;) I'm just so worried about our water supply. A co-worker is having trouble with a neighboring rental house that seems to be the epicenter of vegetation death. These huge established hardwood trees are dead or dying all around the property! Looks creepy to see leafless trees in summer.

maggie moran said...

Stella - Wow! What a story! We suspect the town water supply to be contaiminated with (of all things in a fuel crunch) oil. Our water board is non-existant and tests are bogus. At the Garden Club a man came in with a testing kit and sampled the library's water and found it to be unsafe! Our water actually smells!!!

Debi - Please pass along any titles you think high school students might enjoy. :)

No, not really Jeane. The book is a mystery, too.

Thank you, Gentle Reader, for the lead! :)

Aw, thanks Lori! I'll try to write something this weekend. :)

Do, Keetha and Sharon! Head to the nearest library! ;D