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SC Book Club June 5, 2023, at 2-4pm – Fellows & External Fellows Only – Zoom Only

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June 5, 2023 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

June 5, 2023, 2-4pm, – Fellows and External Fellows

Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (2006)

Discussion Leader: William Logan

The Ghost Map is a gripping multi disciplinary account of London’s cholera epidemic in the 1850s and how one simple public health measure – removing a public pump handle – halted this water-borne disease in one neighbourhood. It provides a graphic description of the state of the sanitary conditions in London in the 1850s, the beginnings of Public Health and epidemiology, and the conditions like large scale farming and improved transportation that supported the growth of large cities in general and how densification of people gave rise to potential for pathogenic spread of diseases. Particularly before germ theory was accepted, public health measures based on wrong ideas could cause more death and disease. We can appreciate how much better lives are now because of public health policies but realize that public health organizations are not infallible particularly when not based on solid empirical findings and undermined by superstition. This book was written long before Covid, but one can certainly ask whether this is still true today.

Although the current wisdom was that cholera was a miasmic disease, i.e. due to “bad air”, Dr John Snow published work indicating that the disease was due to ingestion of something which was probably water borne. It was not well accepted. Several years later he was living in Soho in London when there was a neighbourhood outbreak of cholera. He noted a high concentration around a particular pump and did more footwork to document the high correlation of death and disease with where people got their water (creating the “ghost map” of the title). This led to removal of the pump handle: one of the earliest examples of public health measures by a municipality. Snow’s discovery is an example of convergence of ability and opportunity which Malcolm Gladwell would say is the basis for most extraordinary human accomplishments.

(available in print, audiobook, e-book, 260 pp with 40 pp notes)

Link to register: https://forms.office.com/r/1h1dwcq4GW

The deadline to register is the morning of the the event before 8:00am. The Zoom link will be sent to registrants only.  

If you have any questions, please contact the organizer – Linda Hutcheon at l.hutcheon@utoronto.ca. 


June 5, 2023
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
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