Monday, June 4, 2018

BOOK: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, 256 pages + notes and bibliography

No extended description of London from that period failed to mention the stench of the city. p8

Isn't it great to find a new nonfiction author who delivers on style and content? Steven Johnson's 2006 book about, well, a whole bunch of stuff, was a wonderful narrative history book, and he's written several other books, three of which are available on audiobook from my library. So, not only did I read a great book, I've got a backlist to investigate as well about popular science topics. Score!

But the finest minds of the era were also devoted to an equally pressing question: What are we going to do with all this shit? p 115

The Ghost Map is about the development of modern cities, the development of public health, and scientist John Snow, all framed around an epidemic of cholera in 1854 London. I enjoyed the history aspect of the development of the mega city and the scientific process of determining the cause of the cholera epidemic. Snow faced a decided opposition who believed that disease was spread through the 'miasma' of the air, and thus, also the moral depravity of the poor who so often suffered through the spread of terrible diseases. By supposing that cholera was spread through injestion of bad water, Snow investigated and was able to stop the epidemic from getting worse. 

Johnson easily moves from the specific story of Snow and cholera on Broad Street to the larger historical context of the spreading of diseases and city development. From biographical details of the main characters like Snow, and the local curate, Henry Whitehead, to the scientific background of bacteria and their evolutionary progress, Johnson keeps his narrative in order and progressing. He even at the end connects the ideas of cholera epidemics to modern epidemics and threats to city living.

Traditional bombs obviously grow more deadly as the populations they target increase in size, but the upward slope in that case is linear. With epidemics, the deadliness grows exponentially. p 243
(the math teacher in me loved this example)

The fact that Snow was able to figure out as much as he did without any understanding of bacteria and microbes is pretty amazing. In fact, I was put to mind the great book I read last year, I Contain Multitudes, a very up-to-date understanding of the creepy crawly stuff we can't see. The two books would be like book-ends in the history of epidemics based on bacteria and viruses. (I'm really just looking for any reason to recommend these two books.)

Johnson  ends with a timely reminder of what is needed to keep humanity living and progressing in larger and larger cities:

1. 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 mater of years after Snow's death: genetics, evolutionary theory, environmental science.
2. Commit ourselves anew to the kinds of public health systems that developed in the wake of the brad Street outbreak, both in the developed world and the developing: clean water supplies, sanitary waste-removal and recycling programs. p 255

More of Steven Johnson's Books to look forward to:

Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation 

Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age 

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Saturday, June 2, 2018

BOOK: Canadianity by Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens

Canadianity: Tales from the True North Strong and Freezing by Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens , 288 pages

Aw, two Canadian icons (who have a podcast together) have written a book about Canada. Their podcast tries to define Canadianity and now they have written a book to share their stories and travels across this big great country. Just a couple of Bahds, having a little love fest. Needless to say, I enjoyed this book.

Jonathan Torrens is a bit younger than me and lived in my little suburb outside Charlottetown. Most people think Sherwood is just a part of Charlottetown, except people from Sherwood who say they are from Sherwood. You may know Jonathan Torrens from Trailer Park Boys (J-Roc) or maybe you are a bit older and remember Street Cents, a consumer info show for teens. He's a Canadian guy, or bahd, as T &T continually refer. A good guy and very funny.  Someone to have a beer with. Because Jon is originally from PEI, the PEI chapter is quite long which I also loved. 

Taggart was the drummer from Our Lady Peace, not a band I listened to but I've definitely heard of them. He's also middle aged with lots of great stories of growing up in Ontario and also being a rock star. 

Each province gets a chapter, with stories from the bahd's travels or show biz experiences. There are lots of lists for each province - famous people, places to see, food to eat, great bands. Canada is big, but also it's a lot of small places too and it was fun having been to many places and recognizing people and places. 

It's an enjoyable read about the collective Canadian experience (especially for people of a certain, ie my, age). Great job Bahds!