Johnson’s book evolves much like the bacteria he describes within it. Every chapter brings forth new elements, incorporating a multitude of macro-level and micro-level components which seem to build off one another in a fascinating way. The author’s “bird’s-eye view” of storytelling is enthralling. One cannot get much further than the next page before being pulled into another relationship, each building on the last into a vast network. One of the many roles that Johnson tasks the reader with is the identity of an explorer. It is up to the reader/individual and the class/collective to uncover what is hidden in the shadows of Johnson’s story.
Though the multifaceted and multidisciplinary approach to storytelling is exciting, it can often be disorienting. Am I connecting the dyads which need to be connected? Why is Johnson sharing this part of the story with me? How does his manner of storytelling affect how I understand London’s epidemic? Certainly, the plethora of questions that fall from the pages should all be addressed, but it is worth stepping back from the streets of London to analyze just why Johnson decided to tell this story in the dramatized form he does.
Radiolab’s 2011 podcast entitled “Patient Zero” demonstrates much like Johson’s The Ghost Map a multidimensional approach to addressing the origin of a disease. In this case HIV/AIDS. In many ways Johnson’s storytelling functions much like a podcast:
The reader is able to create a world in their head, in a very detective-esque manner. The reader could create detective mind maps in their head, complete with push-pins and yarns connecting the characters and places together.(What Are We Going To Do With All This Sh*t?)
Within the medium of the podcast, the reader transforms into the listener. In what way does this distinction change the flow of information which we digest?
While the format may seem to dramatize the story of AIDS and cholera, it is in fact, the opposite. Both parties demonstrate the realistic manner in which these diseases unfolded in our world. By telling each story in a ‘hyper-focused,’ yet “bird’s-eye view,” the reader/listener pieces together the intricacies of these two mysteries. We, the reader, become part of the story. We are put on the streets of London, walking alongside Snow and Whitehead. Equally, Radiolab’s podcast positions the listener in a similar heightened state of absorption. Ultimately, both “Patient Zero” and The Ghost Map recreate an active network instead of a passive one. As much as the events described were in the past, they become to the reader, a present. As a result of this experienced dualism, the reader/listener experiencing both the past and present simultaneously, the individual is inevitably forced to make comparisons to their own societies.
Have the societies we live in today altered? Are we still victims of our own illnesses? To our own self-made contagions?