Powells.com has an interview with Stephen Johnson, whose latest book is “The Ghost Map” (about the cholera epidemic in London in 1854).
One reason we look back at that period is that it represents the beginning, in some important ways, of modern life. It’s the start of the metropolitan, industrial experience that fifty percent of the planet now lives through in one form or another. London lived through it first.
One of the things I tried to capture, as you say, was this very open ended question of whether the whole project was going to work. Rome had grown to over a million people, and then it collapsed; now it was a tenth of its size. A lot of people thought that this was happening again: inevitably, the city was going to self-destruct some cataclysmic event was going to turn the tide the other way. And there were plenty of good, sound reasons to think that, given how awful it was to live there.
That’s why I think this story is so important: it really is one of the key moments in the battle to make cities of that size, and even much larger cities, fundamentally sustainable propositions.