BB pal Steven Johnson's new book The Ghost Map will be published tomorrow. An account of an 1854 cholera outbreak on London's Broad Street, The Ghost Map is a magnificent combination of science thriller, cultural history, and celebration of cartography as a powerful tool to help us understand the dynamics of urban life. I'm halfway through the book and it's absolutely, er, engrossing. We're delighted that Steven will be our guest on next week's Boing Boing Boing podcast. From Steven's blog post that he wrote when he completed his manuscript:
In many ways, the story of Broad Street is all about the triumph of a certain kind of urbanism in the face of great adversity, the power of dense cities to create solutions to problems that they themselves have brought about. So many of the issues that define the modern world today — the runaway growth of megacities, environmental crises, fears of apocalyptic epidemics, digital mapping, the need for clean water, urban terror, the rise of amateur expertise — are there, in embryo, in the Broad Street outbreak.
So The Ghost Map is in part a disease thriller, with some genuinely spooky and unsettling narrative turns. But it also widens its focus to tell the history of London's sewer system, the evolutionary history of bacteria, the biological and cultural roots of the miasma theory, the bizarre waste management techniques of Victorian society, and so on. It is the story of ten days in London in 1854, but it's also an attempt to tell that story at three different scales of experience: from the point of view of the humans living through it, but also from the point of view of the cholera itself, and the city.