Originally posted here.
Reason for Reading: NYT Notable Books challenge and it seems to be pretty popular at my library so I read it while I could get my hands on it.
Back of the Book: This is a story with four protagonists: a deadly bacterium, a vast city, and two gifted but very different men. One dark week a hundred and fifty years ago, in the midst of great terror and human suffering, their lives collided on the streets of London.
From Me: The back of the book makes this sound a lot more exciting than it is. That's not to say that it isn't a very interesting story but in more of an informative way rather than a page-turner way.
There is quite a bit of information to be gleaned here, especially from a scientific and historical perspective. What exactly is cholera and what does it take for it to flourish? What were the thoughts of the city health officials and the medical community regarding disease and prevention and why were they so slow to accept changes in thought and procedure even when presented with compelling evidence? Why did some people who lived in the nastiest squalor live while people who lived in comparatively clean conditions die?
Without a doubt, the most startling thing I learned from reading this is what a nasty place Victorian London was. With a population of over 2 million people in 90 square miles before reliable sewer systems were invented, it was a disease-infested place that was notorious for it's awful stench.
I had a somewhat romanticized vision of what Victorian London must have been like, but now I understand it would have been a horrid place.
I enjoyed reading this book even though it didn't turn out to be the way I expected it to be and it thoroughly grossed me out in a few places.