The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera

The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera

by Sandra Hempel

A killer with little respect for class or wealth, cholera ravaged the squalid streets of Soho and rocked the great centers of Victorian power.

She describes how Snow discovered that cholera was spread through drinking water and how this subsequently laid the foundations for the modern, scientific investigation of today's fatal plagues.

A dramatic account with a colorful cast of characters, The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump features diversions into fascinating facets of medical and social history, such as Snow's tending of Queen Victoria in childbirth, Dutch microbiologist Leeuwenhoek's deliberate breeding of lice in his socks, Dickensian children's farms, and riotous nineteenth-century anesthesia parties.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 4.08
  • Pages: 331
  • Publish Date: January 1st 2007 by University of California Press
  • Isbn10: 0520250494
  • Isbn13: 9780520250499

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A loner A shy reclusive man A vegetarian An avoid-er of alcohol Quiet Observant Avid believer and follower in helping his fellow human being regardless of class and/or situation. John Snow was all of these and was considered to be the weirdo of the Victorian Era. Respected for sure but considered odd by his fellow doctors. He was an articulate observant man who had a great desire to help all living creatures. Shy and reserved for the duration of his life he went through life dedicated to his studies and work; publishing well over 80 books/journals in the scientific field. He was a man that although, known for his work in anesthesia and books, was not included in higher scholarly circles due to his humble background. Some names you may recognize and some you may not but the point is that all these people in some direct/indirect way helped stop cholera and helped Britain start a new path. In fact, if it wasn't for the hard work of these people, Britain would look very different then how it is now. Snow did not approach cholera from a scientific point of view. Snow believed water to be the link to understanding how cholera spread. Unperturbed, Snow continued to study the disease developing paper after paper on his firm belief that the cause of cholera came from the dire conditions of London's water systems. No. He once said, "You and I may not live to see the day, and my name may be forgotten when it comes, but the time will arrive when great outbreaks of cholera will be things of the past; and it is the knowledge of the way in which the disease is propagated which will cause them to disappear." For sure there were times when his frustration with bureaucracy came out as his friend Richardson quoted him once saying, "Nothing so inevitably tends to transform an earnest, inquiring, and enthusiastic man into a supercilious, superficial, and cold-hearted egotist as translation from the tool of self-reliance and independence into the gilded chair of office." But, all in all, Snow was the type of doctor to just be glad that the suffering of his patient had come of and end regardless of what the cure was or who discovered it. Choosing instead to make London the focus point whilst weaving in Snow's life like the binding in a book. Doing something that would have made Snow proud of her as she prioritized the lives of others over the life of a simple doctor. In doing so, she not only taught me more on cholera but gave me insight on many other people who have dedicated their lives to helping humanity.

Now as the cover explains it follows the events that afflicted London and the country during the 19th century due to successive Cholera out breaks and the pioneering work done by one man John Snow (no idea if this was the basic of the fictional character or not) The book covers the events that surrounded the various out breaks and work that was conducted not just by Mr Snow but by all the various people who became instrumental is finally putting the stop to them.

The author tells the tale of Dr John Snow's clever deductions about an outbreak of cholera in the Soho slums of 1800s London. However, I agree with some other reviewers in pointing out that the central tale of John Snow removing the handle from a pump and stopping an outbreak (not that it was actually that simple) doesn't make for enough of a story to write a 300+ page book.

In a horrifying slideshow of medical "treatments" that will make anyone glad to have been born within the last century, Sandra Hempel scours the records of Britain's repeated brushes with asiatic cholera in the mid-1800s, eventually focusing on the story of humble physician and vegetarian hero John Snow. Roundly derided by the "miasmatists" who embraced popular medical theories of the day, Snow discovered and attempted to prove, through careful epidemiological mapping and interviews with victims' families, that cholera was being spread through tainted water supplies.

Sometimes it felt like the author was wandering off topic, but these asides still gave an interesting look at the time period. The author frequently quoted letters, journal articles, case notes, etc., from that time period They described what someone sick with cholera went through, the medical views on the spread and treatment of cholera, etc.

Sandra Hempel spices up the story with interesting supporting characters and sub-plots, building a picture of this extraordinary man and the times he was living in. This culminates in the famous broad street pump incident, though the true climax of the story for me was the aforementioned collection and analysis of exposure data - effectively giving birth to the field of epidemiology.

Alternative title for this book: The Medical Detective: John Snow, Cholera And The Mystery Of The Broad Street Pump. It goes beyond it's title; it's not just about Broad Street but also the history of cholera's travels around the world, the beginning of anaesthesiology and epidemiology, the London drinking water system and orphanages.

I discovered this book while reading On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, where it was referenced because of the map John Snow made of cases of cholera in London in 1854.