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The outbreak that enabled urbanisation: London in “The Ghost Map”

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This post is cross-posted from our Financing Small Cities blog. The post marks the beginning of a new blog series “Cities in Books“, in which we will put across posts that reflect on how cities are portrayed in books and relate them from an urbanisation perspective. If you would like to comment on the post, we would encourage you to do so on the cities blog here.

“It is August 1854, and London is a city of scavengers.”

Thus begins ‘The Ghost Map’, Steven Johnson’s brilliant book on the London cholera outbreak of 1854. The book, on the one hand, is a medical thriller that follows its two protagonists – the physician John Snow and clergymen Henry Whitehead – as they use reason and evidence to overturn the prevailing orthodoxy on the understanding of communicable diseases and in the process, found the science of modern epidemiology in what is still considered a seminal event in the field of public health.

Simultaneously, the book is also remarkable for its view of the epidemic as a consequence of urbanisation and the response to it as one of the defining milestones that made long-term urbanisation and high density growth sustainable prospects. In making this argument, Johnson starts off by providing us a visceral portrait of London circa 1854, to lay out the background on which the story unfolds.

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Note: The concluding posts on the Municipal Finance blog series involved covering the US Municipal Securities Market: Introduction, Evolution and Current Status. Please click here to read the posts.

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