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Polio: An American Story 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195307146
ISBN-10: 0195307143
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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195307143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195307146
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael R. Chernick on March 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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