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Polio: An American Story [Hardcover]

by David M. Oshinsky
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)

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Polio: An American Story Polio: An American Story 4.5 out of 5 stars (86)
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Book Description

April 12, 2005 0195152948 978-0195152944 1
Here David Oshinsky tells the gripping story of the polio terror and of the intense effort to find a cure, from the March of Dimes to the discovery of the Salk and Sabin vaccines--and beyond. Drawing on newly available papers of Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin and other key players, Oshinsky paints a suspenseful portrait of the race for the cure, weaving a dramatic tale centered on the furious rivalry between Salk and Sabin. He also tells the story of Isabel Morgan, perhaps the most talented of all polio researchers, who might have beaten Salk to the prize if she had not retired to raise a family.

Oshinsky offers an insightful look at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which was founded in the 1930s by FDR and Basil O'Connor, it revolutionized fundraising and the perception of disease in America. Oshinsky also shows how the polio experience revolutionized the way in which the government licensed and tested new drugs before allowing them on the market, and the way in which the legal system dealt with manufacturers' liability for unsafe products. Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, Oshinsky reveals that polio was never the raging epidemic portrayed by the media, but in truth a relatively uncommon disease. But in baby-booming America--increasingly suburban, family-oriented, and hygiene-obsessed--the specter of polio, like the specter of the atomic bomb, soon became a cloud of terror over daily life.

Both a gripping scientific suspense story and a provocative social and cultural history, Polio opens a fresh window onto postwar America.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The key protagonists in historian Oshinsky's (Univ. of Texas, Austin) account of the bruising scientific race to create a vaccine are Jonas Salk, a proponent of a "killed-virus" vaccine, and Albert Sabin, who championed the "live-virus" vaccine. As revered as these men are in popular culture, Oshinsky records their contemporaries' less complimentary opinions (even Sabin's friends, for instance, describe him as "arrogant, egotistical and occasionally cruel"). Oshinsky (A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy, etc.) looks at social context, too, such as the impact of the March of Dimes campaign on public consciousness—and fear—of polio. Tying in the role polio victim FDR played in making the effort a national priority, the precursory scientific developments that aided Salk and Sabin's work, and the ethical dilemmas surrounding human testing, Oshinsky sometimes bogs down in details. But all in all, this is an edifying description of one of the most significant public health successes in U.S. history. 46 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–This well-grounded account documents the quest for a polio vaccine. It reveals professional rivalries and clinical breakthroughs, describes a new era in approaches to public philanthropy, and re-creates the tenor of American culture during the 1940s and '50s, when every city, suburb, and rural community faced potential tragedy from annual outbreaks of the disease. The decades-long contentious relationship between doctors Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk provides the centerpiece of this story. Virologists were split into two main camps: those pursuing the development of an attenuated live-virus vaccine versus those focusing on a killed-virus vaccine, with adherents of the latter believing it would prove not only safer and more effective, but also quicker and cheaper to mass produce. Historical context is provided by detailing how Franklin D. Roosevelt raised public awareness, how his influence led to the emergence of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and the March of Dimes, and the subsequent creation of the poster child concept as a way of creating grassroots fundraising. The writing dramatically captures both tensions and ethical dimensions inherent in moving from laboratory work with monkeys to human experimentation and, eventually, to implementation of a massive inoculation program reaching 1.3 million schoolchildren in the 1954 Salk vaccine trials. While this part of the story and the public adulation of Salk have been told elsewhere, Oshinsky amplifies the tale with data explaining why the Sabin oral vaccine became the one preeminently adopted internationally, and why the debate has continued. Sixteen pages of arresting black-and-white photographs are included.–Lynn Nutwell, Fairfax City Regional Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195152948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195152944
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
The Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and their March of Dimes campaign was started by FDR and managed by his law firm colleague Basil O'Connor. O'Connor continued the movement after Roosevelt's death in 1945 and financed the reseearch into a vaccine. The competition between Salk and Sabin was very interesting and the large number of cases that hit in the early 1950s was the impetous for Salk's accelerated assault on the disease using the dead form of the virus. Sabin believed in a live virus and there were many debates about how to proceed woth scientific research and when to announce findings. Also the ethical issues as to when and how to do vaccine experiments on humans was a major point of contention.

The book is extremely well-researched by Oshinsky and covers the facts, the research and the myths that surrounded the virus along with the fears that hit and the damage that was caused by this disease when it would flare up in the hot summers. All the major contributors are discussed and some biographical backgroubd is given for the key players.

In the summer of 1953 at age six I contracted a mild case of the disease. I knew nothing about it, felt so sick when it first struck that I thought I was going to die. I can relate well to the suffering described. My family was lucky as among the three children I was the only one to get it. I was placed in St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson Long Island, a Catholic hospital that specialized in treating polio and I recovered after 3 months of treatment with only a weakening of my stomach muscles.

The book is detailed and covers how people reacted to the perceived epidemic. It was interesting to me that 1952 was the year that polio cases hit their peak in the US and 1954 was the year of the Salk vaccine trial.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great mix of history, science and mystery July 3, 2006
The 2006 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Best History Book Polio: An American Story is so much more. Author David M. Oshinsky looks at the public health menace of polio but also notes it was the first disease to benefit from a good P.R. machine. While it was a menace more people died of other diseases in the same time frame. What made polio so important was that it had a surviving public face--those children and adults in iron lungs coupled with the fact that it was the first to have a mobilized force in the form of the March of Dimes to raise public awareness and public philantrophy.

Oshinsky gives thumb nail sketches of the political and public circumstances that drove John D. Rockefeller to give buckets of money to develop a U.S. equivelant of the Pasteur Institute. He also looks at the research, deadends and, ultimately, the rivalry between the three men key behind the race for a cure--Sabin, Salk and Koproski all of whom took slightly different approaches to achieve the same end. We also get a rare glimpse into the private feud between Sabin and Salk. The author paints these heroes of the modern age with their feet of clay intact including their petty arguments and jealousy about each persons accomplishments. The author provides an unflinching portrait of a desperate race driven as much by politics as science and the some of the snafus that effected it. This includes the 200 deaths due to contaminated Salk vaccine that was produced without proper supervision at Cutter Labs in Berekely, California.

We also discover little details for example how the direct-to-consumer advertising effected the anti-septic culture in a negative way we live in.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
As part of the generation of Americans who has grown up without the fear and/or experience of having contracted polio, I found Dr. Oshinsky's research into this epidemic a very enlightening read. Imagining what a world without vaccines was like is very chilling.

Coupled with then-constructions about people with disabilities and medical technology limitations, the specter of polio captured the imaginations and fears of whole communities. During the summer months, people were advised to be very careful about where they swam unless they too had wanted to end up with polio. The March of Dimes inadvertently helped to publicize people with disabilities even while the thrust of their founding campaign against Polio was eradication of the disease through a vaccine.

The development of that vaccine brings us into 1954, approximately 10 years after Roosevelt's own death. Jonas Salk made America's first polio vaccine using a killed-virus sample, and this product remained a virtual favorite for many years afterward. Although Albert Sabin's live-virus vaccination soon became the preferred model, it says a lot that the Salk product has reemerged to finally conquer polio once and for all.

Because society naturally has a tendency to anoint public figures and thus remove them from having any flaw, I actually did appreciate his research into the personal character traits of the scientists. Although these men ultimately helped to save America, they were personally imperfect. I feel this humanizing approach makes them more accessible figures to me and other readers.

Presidential action from FDR was instrumental in encouraging the eradication of polio in America. Now as this highly-readable book is released, the United Nations has set an equally ambitious goal of eradicating the world of polio by 2008.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great history of the development of the vaccine
I had just finished Spillover and this book was not about looking for the cause, but rather about the development of the vaccine and all the politics of academia.
Published 3 days ago by vakdevi
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for public health nerds
I am a public health major and had to read this book for my infectious diseases class, and it was excellent. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Sydnie
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent !
A very good book extolling the historical advances of Medical research and the treatment of a world wide epidemic in Polio! Read more
Published 14 days ago by Beep Beep
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
Really well written, gripping, and important history to know. Very interesting look at the history of vaccinations in the us.
Published 19 days ago by K. Roecklein
4.0 out of 5 stars TWO GREAT MEN
It should be noted from the outset that this is less a history of Polio than the tale of the vaccine developed by Salk and Sabin. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Severin Olson
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, inspiring and America's legacy
I chose this book, Polio: An American Story because my father was a polio victim. Fortunately for us, he made an almost 100% recovery. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Carol Hayward
5.0 out of 5 stars well done
I gave this as a gift to a nurse who was on the frontlines in the battle vs. polio. I had seen it on TV. We watched it together and she enjoyed it also and agreed w/it factually. Read more
Published 3 months ago by TN Ginny
4.0 out of 5 stars Polio
Highly informative book. I am a microbiologist and yet learned a great deal about the epidemics and the challenges of developing and bringing to market an effective vaccine. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Judith Whitmire
5.0 out of 5 stars POLIO..AN AMERICAN STORY
Published 3 months ago by barbara danna
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
I was born in the 40s, and had no idea of the scope of polio, or the drama involved in finding a cure. Very good!
Published 3 months ago by Susan Schultz
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