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The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera

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In 1831, an unknown, horrifying, and deadly disease from Asia swept across continental Europe and North America, killing millions and throwing the medical profession into confusion. A killer with little respect for class or wealth, cholera ravaged the squalid streets of Soho and rocked the great centers of Victorian power. In this gripping book, Sandra Hempel tells the sto In 1831, an unknown, horrifying, and deadly disease from Asia swept across continental Europe and North America, killing millions and throwing the medical profession into confusion. A killer with little respect for class or wealth, cholera ravaged the squalid streets of Soho and rocked the great centers of Victorian power. In this gripping book, Sandra Hempel tells the story of John Snow, a reclusive doctor without money or social position, who—alone and unrecognized—had the genius to look beyond the conventional wisdom of his day and uncover the truth behind the pandemic. She describes how Snow discovered that cholera was spread through drinking water and how this subsequently laid the foundations for the modern, scientific investigation of today's fatal plagues. A dramatic account with a colorful cast of characters, The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump features diversions into fascinating facets of medical and social history, such as Snow's tending of Queen Victoria in childbirth, Dutch microbiologist Leeuwenhoek's deliberate breeding of lice in his socks, Dickensian children's farms, and riotous nineteenth-century anesthesia parties. An afterword discusses the new threat of infectious diseases—including malaria, yellow fever, and cholera—with today's global warming. Copub: Granta


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In 1831, an unknown, horrifying, and deadly disease from Asia swept across continental Europe and North America, killing millions and throwing the medical profession into confusion. A killer with little respect for class or wealth, cholera ravaged the squalid streets of Soho and rocked the great centers of Victorian power. In this gripping book, Sandra Hempel tells the sto In 1831, an unknown, horrifying, and deadly disease from Asia swept across continental Europe and North America, killing millions and throwing the medical profession into confusion. A killer with little respect for class or wealth, cholera ravaged the squalid streets of Soho and rocked the great centers of Victorian power. In this gripping book, Sandra Hempel tells the story of John Snow, a reclusive doctor without money or social position, who—alone and unrecognized—had the genius to look beyond the conventional wisdom of his day and uncover the truth behind the pandemic. She describes how Snow discovered that cholera was spread through drinking water and how this subsequently laid the foundations for the modern, scientific investigation of today's fatal plagues. A dramatic account with a colorful cast of characters, The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump features diversions into fascinating facets of medical and social history, such as Snow's tending of Queen Victoria in childbirth, Dutch microbiologist Leeuwenhoek's deliberate breeding of lice in his socks, Dickensian children's farms, and riotous nineteenth-century anesthesia parties. An afterword discusses the new threat of infectious diseases—including malaria, yellow fever, and cholera—with today's global warming. Copub: Granta

30 review for The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera

  1. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Scorpion

    Should you by any chance travel back to the first half of the 19th Century, you should kill any doctors you meet on sight. Trust me, you'll save tens of thousands of lives by so doing. Should you by any chance travel back to the first half of the 19th Century, you should kill any doctors you meet on sight. Trust me, you'll save tens of thousands of lives by so doing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jonny

    “ You and I may not live to see the day, and my name may be forgotten when it comes, but the time will arrive when great outbreaks of cholera will be things of the past; and it is the knowledge of the way in which the disease is propogated which will cause them to disappear. ” The Victorian plague, arguably, was Cholera. This book charts the arrival of the disease in Britain, and the long journey from suspicion to theory to scientific certainty of Dr John Snow's belief in contagion as a vector “ You and I may not live to see the day, and my name may be forgotten when it comes, but the time will arrive when great outbreaks of cholera will be things of the past; and it is the knowledge of the way in which the disease is propogated which will cause them to disappear. ” The Victorian plague, arguably, was Cholera. This book charts the arrival of the disease in Britain, and the long journey from suspicion to theory to scientific certainty of Dr John Snow's belief in contagion as a vector for disease, and a very interesting story it is too... There's An impressive cast, from Queen Victoria through Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale (right idea, wrong theory), and, in an incredible case of some things never change, see the good merchants of Sunderland try to pass the disease off as a bad case of Broon Bot in an attempt to duck a quarantine... It's a good description of a pivotal "moment" in scientific and medical history, a good companion to The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks (dealing only with the climactic outbreak and Snow's final breakthrough, and it's implications for our world), filling in as it does the histories of Dr Snow and of the disease itself and putting everything into context. Not for the squeamish (it's a pretty grim lurgey, to be sure, and Victorian society plainly isn't much better), but if you're sufficiently strong of stomach it's a damn good read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    R K

    "The interest of humanity were best advanced by the universal practice of humanity" Pioneering Figure of Epidemiology and Anesthesia; if your doctor has not heard of this man.......be wary... A loner A shy reclusive man A vegetarian An avoid-er of alcohol Quiet Observant Avid believer and follower in helping his fellow human being regardless of class and/or situation. John Snow was all of these and was considered to be the weirdo of the Victorian Era. Respected for sure but considered odd by his fel "The interest of humanity were best advanced by the universal practice of humanity" Pioneering Figure of Epidemiology and Anesthesia; if your doctor has not heard of this man.......be wary... A loner A shy reclusive man A vegetarian An avoid-er of alcohol Quiet Observant Avid believer and follower in helping his fellow human being regardless of class and/or situation. John Snow was all of these and was considered to be the weirdo of the Victorian Era. Respected for sure but considered odd by his fellow doctors. Snow was not a genius. He was not flamboyant. He was not a typical rags to riches story. He was not super obsessed with science/medicine. He was not sly or crafty. He was not rude or superficial. He was an articulate observant man who had a great desire to help all living creatures. Coming from a humble background he was sent off to be apprenticed as a doctor simply due to his excellence in arithmetic. Shy and reserved for the duration of his life he went through life dedicated to his studies and work; publishing well over 80 books/journals in the scientific field. He was a man that although, known for his work in anesthesia and books, was not included in higher scholarly circles due to his humble background. Still he persisted in his studies undaunted by this isolation. And it was due to this observing nature. This need for meticulous thinking that gave him the understanding and even cure for cholera. Cholera was known as the Indian Cholera because it came from India and spread like wildfire across continents. Nobody knew how it traveled. How it was caught. Who it affected. What was causing it? And how to stop it. This was a disease that spared no one. Moved erratically and disappeared as fast as it appeared. Cholera was an endemic that came in multiple bouts only to disappear as if it never existed in the first place. If cholera could be symbolically represented by Arsène Lupin, then it is just to say that Snow would be its Sherlock Holmes. Sandra Hempel paints a beautiful landscape of what Britain looked like during the early to mid-1800 and it's not the romance you think of when you hear "Victorian Era". No. The real London was dirty. Sewage, defecation from all living creatures, vomit, dirt, mud, and a whole bunch of other things ravaged the streets. Smells intermingled and hung over you day and night. Living spaces were cramped and disheveled. And yet, this standard of living (if it can even be called living) was valued by its pitiful residents who considered this much better than other more destitute places. This was the average life of a Londoner. This was what they lived with day in and day out and no one bothered to change that. Not even the parishes who were responsible for the wellbeing of such folk. But that was the views of the British at the time. The poor deserved it and any offer of consolation should be seen as a gift from God. Now into this grim portrait steps the main cast. John Snow, Charles Dickens, Thomas Wakley, Florence Nightingale, Richardson, Edwin Lankester, Joshua Pasons, Henry Whitehead, William Farr, William Budd, Joseph Bazalgette, and many more. Some names you may recognize and some you may not but the point is that all these people in some direct/indirect way helped stop cholera and helped Britain start a new path. One where standards of living conditions would change. It was this battle with cholera that helped set the foundations of many branches of the medical field, political field, business field, humanitarian field, and many more. In fact, if it wasn't for the hard work of these people, Britain would look very different then how it is now. The world in fact would be much different then what it is today. Snow did not approach cholera from a scientific point of view. Rather he went cracking at it like a detective. Mapping out where cholera struck and the number of casualties along with the cause/symptoms of death. Once finding a potential lead, he went door to door asking questions, gathering intellect from victims, observers, and his own work. Building upon them over and over again until he came to the conclusion, water. Snow believed water to be the link to understanding how cholera spread. Yet, his findings were ridiculed and largely rejected due his status as a nobody and due to the fact that his research had no scientific data to back his hypothesis. An incident that only happened do to his rush to educate the public on a possible cause and cure. At the end of the day, scientific politics won over the findings of a nobody. Unperturbed, Snow continued to study the disease developing paper after paper on his firm belief that the cause of cholera came from the dire conditions of London's water systems. He was a man to die in his 40's infamous for his work in anesthesia, epidemiology and queer persona. It wasn't until years later where his work on cholera was to be acknowledged. Despite being a group of men who sought for scientific truth, mankind’s greed for position and fame lead many to credit themselves over the discovery of how cholera came to be. Luckily, there were those who wanted the true person [Snow], to be accredited. Would Snow have minded that others tried to steal his work? No. He once said, "You and I may not live to see the day, and my name may be forgotten when it comes, but the time will arrive when great outbreaks of cholera will be things of the past; and it is the knowledge of the way in which the disease is propagated which will cause them to disappear." For sure there were times when his frustration with bureaucracy came out as his friend Richardson quoted him once saying, "Nothing so inevitably tends to transform an earnest, inquiring, and enthusiastic man into a supercilious, superficial, and cold-hearted egotist as translation from the tool of self-reliance and independence into the gilded chair of office." But, all in all, Snow was the type of doctor to just be glad that the suffering of his patient had come of and end regardless of what the cure was or who discovered it. He was a man in a respected profession who never let it get the best of him. A beautiful trait that is sorely lacking in doctors nowadays. I think it is suffice to say that I loved this book. Sandra Hempel did a fantastic job with grabbing attention of the reader and her experience with journalism really shows itself in this book. She is one of those journalist whom you buy the paper for just to read her column. She did this one amazing thing where she never made Snow the focal point. Choosing instead to make London the focus point whilst weaving in Snow's life like the binding in a book. Doing something that would have made Snow proud of her as she prioritized the lives of others over the life of a simple doctor. In doing so, she not only taught me more on cholera but gave me insight on many other people who have dedicated their lives to helping humanity. In other words....looks like I have more biographies to read. Detailed and rich, this book is a sure pleaser!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Every so often I leave the world of fiction and delve in to other subjects. Historical discoveries, usually those that have a direct impact on us particularly appeal to me and this title stood out. Now as the cover explains it follows the events that afflicted London and the country during the 19th century due to successive Cholera out breaks and the pioneering work done by one man John Snow (no idea if this was the basic of the fictional character or not) The book covers the events that surroun Every so often I leave the world of fiction and delve in to other subjects. Historical discoveries, usually those that have a direct impact on us particularly appeal to me and this title stood out. Now as the cover explains it follows the events that afflicted London and the country during the 19th century due to successive Cholera out breaks and the pioneering work done by one man John Snow (no idea if this was the basic of the fictional character or not) The book covers the events that surrounded the various out breaks and work that was conducted not just by Mr Snow but by all the various people who became instrumental is finally putting the stop to them. Both heroic and infamous these stories play out across an over crowded and disgusting unhygienic London rife with inequality and depreciation. As the author Sandra Hempel says it was only a few short years after Charles Dickens had published his seminal critic of the system Oliver Twist that child farming, poor houses and cramped conditions linked to unsanitary practices and poor control over both sewers and water supplies meant that it was a matter of time before something of the nature happened. The book not only charts the events from the scientific and medical community but also by the various characters involved from the clergy the politicians. It does therefore at times waver away from John Snow but only to highlight the conditions and obstructions that were put in his way and how even in poor health he strove to stop such a devastating affliction.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    In a horrifying slideshow of medical "treatments" that will make anyone glad to have been born within the last century, Sandra Hempel scours the records of Britain's repeated brushes with asiatic cholera in the mid-1800s, eventually focusing on the story of humble physician and vegetarian hero John Snow. Roundly derided by the "miasmatists" who embraced popular medical theories of the day, Snow discovered and attempted to prove, through careful epidemiological mapping and interviews with victims In a horrifying slideshow of medical "treatments" that will make anyone glad to have been born within the last century, Sandra Hempel scours the records of Britain's repeated brushes with asiatic cholera in the mid-1800s, eventually focusing on the story of humble physician and vegetarian hero John Snow. Roundly derided by the "miasmatists" who embraced popular medical theories of the day, Snow discovered and attempted to prove, through careful epidemiological mapping and interviews with victims' families, that cholera was being spread through tainted water supplies. Personally, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for popular writing, fact or fiction, about plagues and epidemics. It has all the suspense of a good murder mystery without anything so petty as a motive. At times The Strange Case is packed with too many irrelevant facts -- one gets the sense that Hempel wanted no bit of research she did to go unshared -- but some of these random asides are fascinating. I particularly enjoyed some of the details of Snow's earlier work as a pioneer of anesthesia and the origins of those cascades of medical interventions that still rule obstetrics today. And really, where else was I to have learned that a fifteenth century colleague of Copernicus at Padua University wrote a 1300 verse epic poem about syphilis? And so the story is a bit meandering, a bit slow to get to the point, but eventually a riveting tale of one doctor's quest to prove and publicize his suspicions about disease while hundreds died preventably around him. It's a lesson about how fervently we can cling to ideas that are incorrect and unsupported. It is, finally, an overdue homage to a brilliant and dedicated researcher.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nick Davies

    I was bought this book as a gift a decade or so ago, and did try reading it back then, but didn't get very far with it as I wasn't reading as much back then. I'm very glad I dug it back out from my TBR pile, however. The author tells the tale of Dr John Snow's clever deductions about an outbreak of cholera in the Soho slums of 1800s London. It's a tale with which I was pretty familiar with the central tenets of, from my own microbiology background, but Hempel adds a lot more to the story and puts I was bought this book as a gift a decade or so ago, and did try reading it back then, but didn't get very far with it as I wasn't reading as much back then. I'm very glad I dug it back out from my TBR pile, however. The author tells the tale of Dr John Snow's clever deductions about an outbreak of cholera in the Soho slums of 1800s London. It's a tale with which I was pretty familiar with the central tenets of, from my own microbiology background, but Hempel adds a lot more to the story and puts it all in context. Well researched, excellently told with respect to the grim times and upsetting environs in which the epidemics took root, and at a level which doesn't patronise the scientifically minded whilst still remaining approachable to the casual reader. It all made for a very educational and compelling read. However, I agree with some other reviewers in pointing out that the central tale of John Snow removing the handle from a pump and stopping an outbreak (not that it was actually that simple) doesn't make for enough of a story to write a 300+ page book. There is a fair amount of meandering off on tangents at times, some biographical sections about minor players in the central tale which weren't exactly 'key', and Hempel does throw in a few paragraphs where I thought she was just having a bit of a go on her soap box. However, it did make for an interesting read in the majority. Plus, of course, it reminded me of the time I was on a date with a young lady when a young man myself, and I pointed out during our romantic dinner that the big grassy hump in the church yard we could see across the road from the restaurant was in fact a mass grave of cholera victims. Who said romance is dead? :-)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alana

    A riveting true story that reads as easily as good fiction. Sandra Hempel tells the story of John Snow and his discovering the route by which cholera is spread. Well researched and told via a great plot, this is a truly enjoyable and interesting read. Set mostly in Victorian England, the book also gives historical insight into living conditions, the medical establishment, public health and civil engineering at the time.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kenzo

    Absolutely brilliant. I had heard of the broad street pump episode and the map John Snow used and I was unmoved - a fun and dramatic story which does not illustrate the genius of John Snow and even encourages people into misleading texas sharp shooter type investigations. After reading this book, John Snow is my hero. His best piece of work was the collection of data on water sources among cholera victims which he used to determine whether this exposure was associated with greater risk of illnes Absolutely brilliant. I had heard of the broad street pump episode and the map John Snow used and I was unmoved - a fun and dramatic story which does not illustrate the genius of John Snow and even encourages people into misleading texas sharp shooter type investigations. After reading this book, John Snow is my hero. His best piece of work was the collection of data on water sources among cholera victims which he used to determine whether this exposure was associated with greater risk of illness. With this, he could determine whether his hunch was correct (rather than, for example, assuming he was correct because he was smarter than everyone else - which seems to have been the position of much of the medical establishment at the time). His ideas illustrate his lack of ego and the way in which he pursued his ideas are evidence of the strength of his character. Sandra Hempel spices up the story with interesting supporting characters and sub-plots, building a picture of this extraordinary man and the times he was living in. She portrays a man in search of truth and understanding surrounded by a medical establishment driven by ego and opinion, which makes his humble perseverance all the more heroic. This culminates in the famous broad street pump incident, though the true climax of the story for me was the aforementioned collection and analysis of exposure data - effectively giving birth to the field of epidemiology. As a piece of history, I enjoyed it more than history books focused more broadly on a time or a place, perhaps because this book had a central character whose story I could use as a lens through which to understand the conditions of the time. This isn't just for those interested in public health. It is for those interested in people that pursued their own ideas despite being ignored or dismissed, in the birth of some key scientific principles, in the conditions of 19th century England. Highly recommended for everyone and anyone.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    "The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump" describes the waves of cholera that spread across the world from 1817 to 1866, what was done to treat it, and what was discovered about it. While many people and places were mentioned, we learned the most about John Snow since he made the greatest discovery about how cholera was spread and the main focus was on the cholera-related events in London, England. The book also described related topics like the medical and sanitary practices of the day, medic "The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump" describes the waves of cholera that spread across the world from 1817 to 1866, what was done to treat it, and what was discovered about it. While many people and places were mentioned, we learned the most about John Snow since he made the greatest discovery about how cholera was spread and the main focus was on the cholera-related events in London, England. The book also described related topics like the medical and sanitary practices of the day, medical training, etc. Sometimes it felt like the author was wandering off topic, but these asides still gave an interesting look at the time period. The author frequently quoted letters, journal articles, case notes, etc., from that time period They described what someone sick with cholera went through, the medical views on the spread and treatment of cholera, etc. There were also black-and-white illustrations: political cartoons and posters about cholera from that time period. If talking about drinking water that contains feces and mentions of people throwing up grosses you out, then you might not enjoy the many vivid descriptions in this book. However, I found it an interesting, easy read from start to finish. The author clearly explained the (few) medical terms she used as well as any outdated phrasings in the quotes that might be confusing. Cholera is another example of how the majority of scientists at that time were so sure of their own ideas about how sickness was transmitted that they couldn't see the truth even when John Snow clearly showed that they were wrong. Anyone who believes that "if most scientists say it then it must be true" should read books like this. :) Maybe they're right, maybe they aren't, but they aren't right just because they're in the majority. In any case, I recommend this book to those who aren't easily grossed out who are interested in cholera and the advances in science that occurred while trying to fight it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Petra

    Alternative title for this book: The Medical Detective: John Snow, Cholera And The Mystery Of The Broad Street Pump. I really enjoyed this book. It goes beyond it's title; it's not just about Broad Street but also the history of cholera's travels around the world, the beginning of anaesthesiology and epidemiology, the London drinking water system and orphanages. Most surprising person mentioned: Elizabeth Gaskell. Sandra Hempel manages to show the works of Dr. John Snow in a clear manner. Snow wa Alternative title for this book: The Medical Detective: John Snow, Cholera And The Mystery Of The Broad Street Pump. I really enjoyed this book. It goes beyond it's title; it's not just about Broad Street but also the history of cholera's travels around the world, the beginning of anaesthesiology and epidemiology, the London drinking water system and orphanages. Most surprising person mentioned: Elizabeth Gaskell. Sandra Hempel manages to show the works of Dr. John Snow in a clear manner. Snow was a quiet man, who despite his many great works, could have gone down in history unknown. A man of no social status or money, his word & work isn't recognized and, at one time, is plagiarized. If not for Reverend Whitehead, Snow would have been forgotten by history, and that would have been regrettable. He seemed like a nice man. This book is a good look at the medical system & history of 1854. It shows a world before pure water and how precarious life was before safe water. Strange facts about John Snow that are of interest only to me: he was born on my birthday, died on my husband's birthday, made a statement before the medical board to try to convince them of the source of cholera on Broad Street on my mother's birthday. Note to self: when in London, have a beer at the John Snow Pub on Broadwick Street (nee Broad Street), see the pump replica showing close site of original pump, visit Brompton Cemetery where John Snow is interred.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Cline

    I discovered this book while reading On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, where it was referenced because of the map John Snow made of cases of cholera in London in 1854. They were concentrated around a particular public water pump. Snow was convinced that cholera was disseminated through dirty water, but most physicians believed it was bad air. He was finally vindicated, after having been ignored for a long time, but his fame came after his untimely death. The bo I discovered this book while reading On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, where it was referenced because of the map John Snow made of cases of cholera in London in 1854. They were concentrated around a particular public water pump. Snow was convinced that cholera was disseminated through dirty water, but most physicians believed it was bad air. He was finally vindicated, after having been ignored for a long time, but his fame came after his untimely death. The book covers how physicians were educated, the discovery of anesthesia, which Snow was also connected with, and the discovery of germs. Sadly (or happily?), this book leads to three more that look very interesting. I'll never get through my to-read list at this rate.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sohvi

    Well written and easy to read, despite of the heavy subject. This is much broader than what I expected. It started out with the early history of cholera, before concentrating on cholera in Europe and in England and only after that it starts to talk about John Snow. Personally I liked that, because it gave the background needed when handling complex subjects such as pandemics. But the book had maybe been oversold as being "The Story of John Snow". This is first and foremost about cholera in Engla Well written and easy to read, despite of the heavy subject. This is much broader than what I expected. It started out with the early history of cholera, before concentrating on cholera in Europe and in England and only after that it starts to talk about John Snow. Personally I liked that, because it gave the background needed when handling complex subjects such as pandemics. But the book had maybe been oversold as being "The Story of John Snow". This is first and foremost about cholera in England. Maybe third of the book is actually concentrated on John Snow.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    Utterly excellent! I wouldn't say it's a page turner but it was great to learn about the birth of epidemiology, the complete ignorance we had when it came to disease, and the way the cholera epidemic played out in England. There is so much more to love in this book, with little related side stories regarding Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale and the namesake of Big Ben. If you enjoy learning about medical history, don't go past this one. Utterly excellent! I wouldn't say it's a page turner but it was great to learn about the birth of epidemiology, the complete ignorance we had when it came to disease, and the way the cholera epidemic played out in England. There is so much more to love in this book, with little related side stories regarding Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale and the namesake of Big Ben. If you enjoy learning about medical history, don't go past this one.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Bettie's Books Bettie's Books

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    This is a very indepth look at the history of John Snow and his work to identify the cause of cholera. Hempel clearly did a lot of thorough research. The book was certainly readable and held my attention but I think she included a few too many side stories about other people and health issues. The story could have been streamlined some.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mike McDonald

    The author did a wonderful job of keeping me interested in what could have been a fairly dry subject. The story of the discovery of how cholera is transmitted is told in a suspenseful way, making this book an enjoyable read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Excellent look at London’s cholera outbreaks I had read Steven Johnson’s book “The Ghost Map” but I had felt that I felt that I hadn't learned that much about John Snow, the father of modern epidemiology. This book filled in all the blanks and more. I definitely liked Sandra Hempel’s book more than Ghost Map. It is more scientific and gives more background information. Although more scientific, everything is explained well and the book was enjoyable to read. If you are only going to read one book Excellent look at London’s cholera outbreaks I had read Steven Johnson’s book “The Ghost Map” but I had felt that I felt that I hadn't learned that much about John Snow, the father of modern epidemiology. This book filled in all the blanks and more. I definitely liked Sandra Hempel’s book more than Ghost Map. It is more scientific and gives more background information. Although more scientific, everything is explained well and the book was enjoyable to read. If you are only going to read one book about cholera, I definitely recommend the one by Hempel.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lucy B

    The Medical Detective is a richly detailed read that chronicles the spread, treatment and eventual prevention of this deadly virus. Central to the story is the ground-breaking work of the now famous Dr John Snow, who fought to prove that cholera was a water-borne disease, despite conventional wisdom suggesting its source came primary from ‘bad air’ or miasma. Despite the slow start, Hempel’s account of the rise of cholera in Europe, and the investigative work of Dr Snow, is gripping. She tells, i The Medical Detective is a richly detailed read that chronicles the spread, treatment and eventual prevention of this deadly virus. Central to the story is the ground-breaking work of the now famous Dr John Snow, who fought to prove that cholera was a water-borne disease, despite conventional wisdom suggesting its source came primary from ‘bad air’ or miasma. Despite the slow start, Hempel’s account of the rise of cholera in Europe, and the investigative work of Dr Snow, is gripping. She tells, in just enough detail, the frightening pace in which cholera spread from India across to Europe, and the toll it exacted on the populations of major 19th century cities, including St Petersburg, Hamburg, and finally, London. By using extracts of letters, personal accounts, speeches and various images, Hempel is able to give her reader a rare insight into the real ‘time’ of cholera. Hempe’s tell-all style also draws out the shocking impact that cholera (or the Blue Death) had on the human body, including discoloration of the skin, vomiting, low blood pressure and diarrhea. She also details the frightening ‘treatments’ ministered by the medics of the day: hot mustard “poultices applied to the abdomen and boiling water to the feet; enemas of every description…and draughts of medicine containing ammonia, oil, pepper, spices and sulfuric acid” (p42). It is here, in the first stages of the book, where Hempel’s experience as a health and social issues journalist really shines. As cholera swept to the UK from Continental Europe, the quest to discover how the disease spread became even more urgent. The dominant theory of disease spread in the 19th century was based on the idea that a disease was caught via ‘bad air’ or miasma, a theory that had its roots in medieval times. While the efforts of leading miasmatists, including Sir Edwin Chadwick, did lead inadvertently to some reduction in disease via promoting better hygiene, cholera outbreaks were still occurring into the mid- late 1800s. It was the ground breaking work of anesthetist, Dr John Snow, that identified that cholera was spread through water, thus leading the way to the rise of modern sanitation in London. The turning point for Snow was when, during the 1854 cholera epidemic that swept Soho, he was able to map the presentation of the disease across the local areas, linking water from the Broad Street pump as the source of the cholera outbreak. This water was supplied by a private company who used dubious sanitation and filtration measures . Sadly, Dr Snow’s work was only acknowledged in the years after his premature death at 45. In fact, during his lifetime, not only was his work not considered serious, he had to face ridicule and skepticism from the medical establishment in London. As Hempel tells it, Snow’s ground-breaking work in disease theory and epidemiology eventually prompted William Farr, a statistician, to conduct further work into the spread of cholera in 1866, resulting in further, concrete, evidence to support Snow’s hypothesis. This led to vindication for Snow and the demise of miasma disease theory. Not only is Hempel’s book a celebration of Snow’s work, but it is a lesson that sometimes being right is one thing, but being heard is absolutely another…I recommend The Medical Detective to readers with an interest in medical history, Victorian literature (Dickens gets a mention) and public health.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stephan

    In my opinion, one of the best books i've read. Personally, I find that most history books tend to have one of two common pitfalls: either they are too academic, making it difficult for the layperson to establish a basic understanding of the topic without being enveloped by the avalanche of details; or they contain too many personal accounts of the topic to the point that you drift off and forget what the chapter was about in the first place. However, with this book, there has been a consistently In my opinion, one of the best books i've read. Personally, I find that most history books tend to have one of two common pitfalls: either they are too academic, making it difficult for the layperson to establish a basic understanding of the topic without being enveloped by the avalanche of details; or they contain too many personal accounts of the topic to the point that you drift off and forget what the chapter was about in the first place. However, with this book, there has been a consistently good balance between the aforementioned points. The author does not spend too long discussing every minute detail of the situation but just enough for a sound understanding. Likewise there are just enough personal accounts to allow the reader to relate to and appreciate the gravity of the circumstances at the time, giving it that all important human touch. John Snow was a remarkable man, much more so than I had previously realised. In spite of the fierce and stubborn opposition to his views throughout his life, his steadfastness and methodical work ethic allowed him to be convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that his theories were true. It is interesting to see how people such as the miasmatists of the day will do anything to find anything to support whatever they want to accept as true. In other words, "The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is." - Winston Churchill On a side note, the book also gives the reader a good insight into what life was like in victorian london. In fact, the practice of using sawdust in cayenne pepper, mostly water for milk, blue clay to pass off cheap fish for sardines do not sound too dissimilar to the food scandals of today. Also, the poisons and tortures that physicians used to give to patients (pouring hot water on the belly, pouring acid down the throat, giving overdoses of mercury) should really stir up in us at least some gratitude for the healthcare that many of us enjoy today, though of course not perfect. In short, this book has been a great eye-opener into the contributions of John Snow to the medical world, life in victorian london, and the bureaucracy and politics of the time that still plagues many societies today. "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." - Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    In the early- to mid-1800's, cholera ravaged Europe. It swept into neighborhoods in the blink of an eye, killed hundreds or thousands in days, and then just as quickly disappeared completely...only to pop up again somewhere else.. Family members watched as their loved ones went from perfect health to extreme dehydration and death in mere hours. Whole houses...whole streets were decimated, erasing the lives of everyone who lived within. Yet just as astonishingly some places were left entirely unt In the early- to mid-1800's, cholera ravaged Europe. It swept into neighborhoods in the blink of an eye, killed hundreds or thousands in days, and then just as quickly disappeared completely...only to pop up again somewhere else.. Family members watched as their loved ones went from perfect health to extreme dehydration and death in mere hours. Whole houses...whole streets were decimated, erasing the lives of everyone who lived within. Yet just as astonishingly some places were left entirely untouched, like the house next door left standing after last night's tornado. The most horrifying aspect of cholera was how little was known about it. The speed and unpredictability of this illness flabbergasted scientists and public health officials alike, and doctors were at a loss as to how to cure the endless supply of dying patients. The mad scramble to stop this unseen menace resulted in some alarming solutions, most of which only killed people and saved barely any. And then John Snow, father of epidemiology and anesthesia, stood glowing like a radiant sun cresting over a shadow-casting mountain and proclaimed with insurmountable logic and wisdom, maybe....just maybe, it's in the water! Sadly, only to be dismissed by his peers, his advice going unacknowledged and unknown by the general public. John Snow is one of my favorite historical figures, and this is another fantastic book on his work during the cholera epidemics of the 1800's. So yes, of course I loved the book. It was a wonderful account of those terrible events, and this book in particular had a strong focus on Mr. Snow himself, which made it all the better in my opinion. Highly recommended.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lis

    Very interesting book - about the search for the cause of cholera during outbreaks in mid-19th century Britain. At the time they had no knowledge that germs cause disease, and medical treatments weren't much past where they had been in middle ages, so many people died very quickly in each of several successive cholera epidemics. The picture the author gives of the living conditions of the poor in London at the time are pretty shocking. This was the London that Charles Dickens wrote about - the L Very interesting book - about the search for the cause of cholera during outbreaks in mid-19th century Britain. At the time they had no knowledge that germs cause disease, and medical treatments weren't much past where they had been in middle ages, so many people died very quickly in each of several successive cholera epidemics. The picture the author gives of the living conditions of the poor in London at the time are pretty shocking. This was the London that Charles Dickens wrote about - the London of Oliver Twist. Cholera did not affect only the poor, by any means, but the conditions under which they lived were conducive to the disease spreading. The author cites a lot of contemporary sources to illustrate the debates among doctors, government officials, and others with (wrong) theories of how cholera is spread, how it affects the body, and the often horrific treatments that were inflicted on patients. She effectively traces the process of John Snow discovering that in fact it is transmitted primarily via polluted water, and battling to get this view accepted. This is not a light read, but is not heavy-going either. I found it quite illuminating. (As an aside: the epicentre of one of the London cholera outbreaks, in 1854, Soho Square, was at the time an area of extreme poverty and extreme crowding; last summer we were in London and visited Soho Square, which area is now quite gentrified!)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jaksen

    Excellent non-fiction book on a health topic for those who loved 'The Hot Zone,' anything ebola-related, or anything omg-another-horrible-disease-related. Hempel does an excellent job of researching all the details regarding the three horrible cholera epidemics in 1800's England. I always marvel at books where so many of the 'experts' turn out to be total dunces, disregarding what's right in front of them and adhering to old ideas and theories which time and again turn out to be total crap. (My Excellent non-fiction book on a health topic for those who loved 'The Hot Zone,' anything ebola-related, or anything omg-another-horrible-disease-related. Hempel does an excellent job of researching all the details regarding the three horrible cholera epidemics in 1800's England. I always marvel at books where so many of the 'experts' turn out to be total dunces, disregarding what's right in front of them and adhering to old ideas and theories which time and again turn out to be total crap. (My mother used to use 'crap' as catch-all term for nonsense, garbage, junk. It fits in this instance.) So as I read I was alternately captured by Dr. John Snow's persistence and absolutely admirable doggedness in researching cholera and determining how it was spread - and appalled at how the 'experts' of the day routinely dismissed his methods and ideas. Common knowledge tells us he figured out one source of the contagion - the Broad Street Pump - and after telling the local authorities to turn it off, they did, thus ending the epidemic, at least in that area. However, things were far from that simple. There is an entire scenario of characters here, big and small, self-important and self-effacing and the story is a great one, marked by the common, tragic lives of the poor and 'lower classes.' While an entire group of politicians and other officials hedge and waver and make a series of extremely poor decisions, thousands of helpless English citizens die. A great read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Candy Wood

    Hempel acknowledges in her bibliographic essay at the end that the story of the Broad Street pump and John Snow’s life and work was not enough to make a book, so neither this title nor the original British one, The Medical Detective, really fits the book she has written, and much of the additional material seems extraneous. Her effort to produce a dramatic narrative produces some confusion: for example, at the end of chapter 11, it sounds as though chapter 12, “The Big Idea,” will be about Snow Hempel acknowledges in her bibliographic essay at the end that the story of the Broad Street pump and John Snow’s life and work was not enough to make a book, so neither this title nor the original British one, The Medical Detective, really fits the book she has written, and much of the additional material seems extraneous. Her effort to produce a dramatic narrative produces some confusion: for example, at the end of chapter 11, it sounds as though chapter 12, “The Big Idea,” will be about Snow presenting his findings to the parish authorities, but instead it describes the government’s new fact-finding effort. When Snow makes his presentation in chapter 13, “Proof Positive,” the authorities are not convinced, but in chapter 15, without hearing any other evidence, they follow his advice and disable the pump anyway. Florence Nightingale keeps turning up even though she never accepted the idea of contagion. It’s a readable book with relevance to today’s efforts to defeat AIDS or SARS, but the narrative structure could be clearer.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    The story is often told that Dr. John Snow, during a cholera outbreak in London, marked on a map of Soho the locations of vthe disease's victims and linked them to a public water pump on Broad Street. He removed the pump handle and the epidemic stopped. This telling misses the detailed detective work that preceded the events. Dr. Snow invested years of research in concluding, before the outbreak, that cholera was a water-borne disease. We take clinical medical practice for granted now. It is amaz The story is often told that Dr. John Snow, during a cholera outbreak in London, marked on a map of Soho the locations of vthe disease's victims and linked them to a public water pump on Broad Street. He removed the pump handle and the epidemic stopped. This telling misses the detailed detective work that preceded the events. Dr. Snow invested years of research in concluding, before the outbreak, that cholera was a water-borne disease. We take clinical medical practice for granted now. It is amazing to look back at an age when medicine was still trying to establish its methods and its path to knowledge.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    Although it starts out a bit slow with background of the spread of cholera in the 1800's, this non-fiction book becomes almost as exciting as a mystery novel as it describes the discovery of the cause for cholera. When people didb't believe the doctor who proposed the answer and suggested a way to stop the spread of such a deadly disease, I wanted to scream in frustration! I found Sandra Hempel's description of how she selected her topic and broadened it to be a book length story fascinating. Although it starts out a bit slow with background of the spread of cholera in the 1800's, this non-fiction book becomes almost as exciting as a mystery novel as it describes the discovery of the cause for cholera. When people didb't believe the doctor who proposed the answer and suggested a way to stop the spread of such a deadly disease, I wanted to scream in frustration! I found Sandra Hempel's description of how she selected her topic and broadened it to be a book length story fascinating.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Highly recommended. Fascinating account of John Snow's determination to discover the cause of cholera epedemics in London and the opposition that he encountered from the medical establishment of the day. Even respected figures like Florence Nightingale refused to accept his discovery that the disease was spread by bacteria in drinking water. Highly recommended. Fascinating account of John Snow's determination to discover the cause of cholera epedemics in London and the opposition that he encountered from the medical establishment of the day. Even respected figures like Florence Nightingale refused to accept his discovery that the disease was spread by bacteria in drinking water.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eve

    Although I thought this book had a little too much detail (I'm glad the author researched it so extensively, but I kept wanting to get the the next discovery), overall it was very good and super interesting. It definitely made me appreciate tap water in a way I never have. Although I thought this book had a little too much detail (I'm glad the author researched it so extensively, but I kept wanting to get the the next discovery), overall it was very good and super interesting. It definitely made me appreciate tap water in a way I never have.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

    Really liked this. It's not just about Snow and his experiment, but also about the history of cholera, the state of medical science in the 19th century, and the social and political aspects of the time. Really liked this. It's not just about Snow and his experiment, but also about the history of cholera, the state of medical science in the 19th century, and the social and political aspects of the time.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Balraj Sethi

    Jason Snow is like many other great mind is merely known and not much appreciated even today. However, his ideas made platform to content one of the most deadliest epidemic of the nineteenth century. Sandra Hempel's naturalistic narration you will be swayed back to the mid-eighteen hundred. Jason Snow is like many other great mind is merely known and not much appreciated even today. However, his ideas made platform to content one of the most deadliest epidemic of the nineteenth century. Sandra Hempel's naturalistic narration you will be swayed back to the mid-eighteen hundred.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    A fascinating book about cholera and the history of the first epidemiologist who figured out how the disease was transmitted in foul water. If you are interested in medical history you will like this book. Well written and and researched.

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