It’s no secret that I enjoy books about terrible diseases, and so it’s not surprising that I would pick up a book about the 1854 London cholera outbreak with some gusto. I also have liked other books by Steven Johnson, but I contend that his books are not good audio books. Why? Because he goes on and on and on with the same point, and throws in some seeming crazy irrelevancies from time to time. In book form it’s easy enough to skim, but in audio form it can be a bit much.
This book starts with the story that we all know and love. Broad Street is struck with a massive outbreak of cholera, and Dr. John Snow sees it as a possible test to his theory of cholera as a waterborne disease. So he does some detective work, and despite initial skepticism, convinces the parish board to remove the pump handle to the Broad Street well. What this book also does is talk a lot about the sociology of being wrong, and also a lot about information design. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s interesting, but leads to a very long epilogue that talks about urbanism and map-making that felt like a completely different book.