This book follows an esteemed doctor and a local clergyman who, together, are the heart of an investigation to solve the mystery of the cholera epidemic. In 1854 London was ravaged by a terrible outbreak of cholera, where within the span of mere weeks over five hundred people in the Soho district died. London, at the time, was a city of around two and a half million people, all crammed into a small area with no system for sewage removal. With overflowing cesspools, improper drainage of all the human and animal waste, and no system for guaranteed clean water, the people of London were in a bad state. They were essentially dumping all of their feces into their drinking water supply, a perfect environment for cholera to thrive.
Johnson’s story follows the journeys of characters we come to know well and their reactions to the cholera outbreak. Our interest is kept by the ongoing revelation of important information, and the developing conflict between a major character and his view of the epidemic versus that of majority of others, both in the scientific community and the population at large. He keeps us guessing about how and if the mystery will be solved and at the same time recreates a world that is completely unknown to us.
The setting is London in 1854, which is very different to anything we know today. Johnson’s description of this time and place makes it seem like a whole other world from the here and now....
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... that it combined the perfect amount of medical history, scientific fact and storytelling; creating a brilliant account that kept me wanting to find out more. It was full of interesting information that helped me to understand more about the cholera epidemic and the views of public health and medical practice of the people in 1854 London.
Christopher Hamlin, “Edwin Chadwick, ‘Mutton Medicine’, and the Fever Question,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 70 (1996): 233-265.
Pamela K. Gilbert, “’Scarcely to be Described’: Urban Extremes as Real Spaces and Mythic Places in the London Cholera Epidemic of 1854,” Nineteenth Century Studies 14 (2000): 149-72.
Mary Poovey, “Domesticity and Class Formation: Chadwick’s 1842 Sanitary Report,” in Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1839-1864 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 115-131
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