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Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio

4.3 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 097-1486277302
ISBN-10: 0425205703
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. For children today, the word "polio" means little more than a series of shots, a mundane part of health care. Fifty years ago, however, polio was a dark shadow that arrived every summer, a deep fear hanging over every child and parent. Every year, the disease left tens of thousands of children crippled, paralyzed or, worse, reliant on an iron lung to aid them in breathing. Time magazine senior writer Kluger, coauthor of the bestselling book that was the basis for the movie Apollo 13, tells how polio was beaten 50 years ago in one of the triumphs of modern medicine. The narrative naturally centers on Jonas Salk, whose lab developed the first polio vaccine, but this is by no means a simple biography. Kluger is best when describing science as a team enterprise, and this account offers a keen understanding of the vast machine of people and resources mobilized to combat polio. The book is well researched and accessible, made all the more tense and gripping by the author's depiction of the pre-vaccine world—by describing what it was like to live in fear of polio, Kluger reminds us how joyous and heroic an event its conquest was. B&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Kluger begins his riveting account of the battle against the viral crippler in 1916, with Dora Salk worrying about her infant son's susceptibility during the first severe polio epidemic. Jonas Salk became not a victim but the slayer of polio, though Franklin D. Roosevelt's disabling 1921 bout with the virus and his inspiration of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis were crucial to Salk's realization of one of modern medicine's finest achievements. Roosevelt's subsequent prestige as president powered the NFIP's fund-raising juggernaut, and its gleanings funded the long process of finding a safe, effective vaccine, including Salk's Pittsburgh labs. From early on, researchers fiercely debated the respective merits of live-virus and killed-virus vaccines. Salk, who had already helped make the flu vaccine, advocated killed-virus vaccine, considering the risk of contracting polio from its ostensible prophylactic--never completely avoidable with any live virus, however weakened--intolerable. Of course, Salk succeeded, but shortly after, so did his principal live-virus opponent, Albert Sabin. Such is the plotline that Kluger masterfully fills out with sketches of the many players, crossroads incidents, and scientific politicking (in which Sabin definitely comes out smelling other than rosy) in the intense search for the weapon that would kill polio. Can't-put-it-down medical-science history. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Books (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425205703
  • ASIN: B000LMPL60
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,264,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is wonderfully compelling story of the race to cure polio, a disease that--if you're old enough to remember--lingered in the minds of terrified mothers and children everywhere fifty years ago. It also offers an indepth look into the life of Jonas Salk, a fascinating man whose drive to cure this disease was remarkable. Well-told, exciting--tough to put down. For fans of the The Great Influenza and The Greatest Generation.
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Format: Hardcover
"Splendid Solution" is a splendid book. From the opening page, the reader is swept into the world of Jonas Salk and the race to find a vaccine to prevent polio.

If you're a baby boomer, you'll remember getting the Salk or Sabin vaccine -- and marvel that our largest generation of children were protected by the efforts of Dr. Salk and his research team. If you're a parent of a baby boomer, you'll relive the horrors of summers in the 30s, 40s and 50s when the scourge of polio raced through the nation - striking at every level of society - even a future president - FDR.

Like "THE HOT ZONE" -- this is a riveting read! Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover
i found the first chapter of this book quite boring, full of uninteresting detail, but it got better later, though it may be that i just got used to it. as it is, it still wasn't a particularly good book.

one of my complaints is how kluger completely idealizes Salk. for instance, at one point he refuses to tell his rival details about his work because "it seemed somehow wrong to share what he knew with one scientist before revealing it to all the others." come on. it was proffessional rivalry.

another thing that annoyed me was kluger over-analyzing various details that didn't seem to mean anything. he ascribed intentions to various unimportant acts that for one thing, he has no proof of, and for another, are boring to listen to. and we never really get any idea of Salk's personality, which makes the book rather boring, as salk is, after all, the main character. in his acknowledgements, Kluger calls him "a tectonic force in scientific history." bull. all he did was develop a vaccine with already-created methods.

and the details. the book would probably have been way too short if kluger hadn't put in all the details, but still. he spends pages talking about trivial things like how someone decided on the specific date for a conference. sometimes it's interesting details that make a book come alive... but these aren't interesting details.

so i guess the whole problem with the book was that it wasn't alive. the man it's about is a flat, unknown character, and the plot is too long-drawn out and not interesting enough. it wasn't *so* boring, i got through it easily enough, but when i was done i couldn't help thinking what a waste of my time.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
On page 318 of this book, Jonas Salk is quoted as saying, "When you're arguing for an unpopular idea, there are three stages of truth. First, your opponents say it can't be true. Next they say if it's true, it can't be very important. Finally they say well, we've known it all along." To me, Splendid Solution does an excellent job of telling the story of Salk arguing for his unpopular idea, the eventually successful Salk vaccine.

To me as on outsider, the world of science seems like it should be very fact-based and black and white. The more I read about the history of science, however, the more I learn how far that is from the truth. Some reviews complain this book doesn't have enough of the science of vaccination or epidemiology, but I think Kluger's decision to focus his story specifically on the politics of gaining acceptance within the scientific community for a brilliant idea makes a great book.

Kluger lays out the entire process of funding, scientific conferences, personality conflicts and personal hierarchy within scientific circles. It's brilliant in that it shows both the strengths and the weaknesses of the system. Further, I found reading the book caused me to take stock of my own preconceived notions and thought processes to think about what great new ideas I might be ignoring because they didn't fit my own preconceived notions.

A great book for anyone who is interested in understanding a little more about what goes on behind the scenes in scientific circles, or who would like to understand the process by which the Salk vaccine was vetted and developed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kluger weaves together a gripping story about how polio consumed the public mood in the early-to-mid 20th century and about the scientific work to eradicate it. It is primarily told through the prism of Jonas Salk’s work which eventually led to a vaccine. But, as Kluger explains, the goal of a vaccine, initially, was not a foregone conclusion nor, once scientific consensus was achieved, was the method of producing it agreed upon. Salk, as a younger researcher working Tommy Francis’s lab in Michigan, was an integral part of the team that made the first flu vaccine. When he moved to set up a lab at the University of Pittsburgh, he was recruited to work on the polio crisis by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, an organization that was founded by Franklin Roosevelt.

Despite the relatively dry topic of medical research, this story manages to be suspenseful and riveting. Kluger’s masterful account of the culminating press conference in which the results of the first nationwide implementation of the vaccine were announced—a press conference!!—is the unlikely emotional highpoint of the narrative. Additionally, the history and anecdotes of how polio affected both the national consciousness and individuals while it was raging around the nation is incredibly insightful for those of us who did not live through it.
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