Our Book of the Month choice for November

The SSL ‘Book of the Month’ feature highlights a book in our collection that has been chosen by one of our Subject Consultants. This may be a recent addition to our stock or an existing item that we would like to share with you.


The ghost map: a street, a city and the hidden power of urban networks

by Steven Johnson

Penguin, 2008

Shelfmark: RC133.G6.JOH 2008





Our Book of the Month choice for November was selected by Andy Kernot, Subject Consultant for Geography, Social Policy, Internet Studies and Public Policy.

Why was it chosen?

Set during the Cholera endemic of London in 1854, the book shows how plotting the incidence of cholera deaths on a street map of London led to an understanding of the source of the disease and how it was spread. It was chosen because it provides an example of how an innovative visualisation of data helped overcome one of the major problems of urban growth and planning.

Book Overview

Steven Johnson is one of today’s most exciting writers about popular culture, urban living and new technology. In The Ghost Map he tells the story of the terrifying cholera epidemic that engulfed London in 1854, and the two unlikely heroes – anaesthetist Doctor John Snow and affable clergyman Reverend Henry Whitehead – who defeated the disease through a combination of local knowledge, scientific research and map-making.

In telling their extraordinary story, Steven Johnson also explores a whole world of ideas and connections, from urban terror to microbes, ecosystems to the Great Stink, cultural phenomena to street life.


“It is difficult to do justice to the exuberance of Johnson’s ideas, or to his uncanny knack of finding connections and parallels between the most diverse and esoteric disciplines. The Ghost Map is a challenging and exciting work which removes historical non-fiction from the heritage industry and puts it back into lively, impassioned debate.”

Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

Johnson’s account of the 1854 epidemic, along with the meditation on cities that he extrapolates from it, doesn’t need to call attention to its own cleverness. The Ghost Map is elegantly sufficient, without that, to get readers to do some thinking on their own.”

David Quammen, The New York Times

“Steven Johnson’s book provides a vivid and gripping account of the outbreak of 1854, as well as the state of public health during the late 19th century. He theorises on the relationship between urban living and the opportunities, both good and bad, it entails. But what is most enthralling is the way in which he interweaves seemingly self-contained disciplines and renders the cholera episode relevant to modern urban life.”

Sarah Birke, New Statesman

Where can I find it?

We have two copies of the book. One is for library use only and is currently on top of our New Books Display Area (located around the corner from our Library Issue Desk). The second copy is a normal loan copy and can be borrowed. The shelfmark for the title is RC133.G6.JOH 2008

The book was originally published in America with a slightly different sub-title ‘The Ghost map: the story of London’s most terrifying epidemic – and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world.’ We have 3 copies of this title, find it on SOLO here.

In addition, we have an electronic legal deposit copy of the American published title. Online access for this material is restricted to library computers in any of the Bodleian Libraries. A link to it can be found on SOLO.

What would your SSL Book of the Month be? Do you have a favourite book in our collection? If so, we would love to know what it is. Add a comment below or email us.

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