Polio and Its Aftermath: The Paralysis of Culture

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Overview

It was not long ago that scientists proclaimed victory over polio, the dread disease of the 1950s. More recently polio resurfaced, not conquered at all, spreading across the countries of Africa. As we once again face the specter of this disease, along with other killers like AIDS and SARS, this powerful book reminds us of the personal cost, the cultural implications, and the historical significance of one of modern humanity's deadliest biological enemies. In Polio and Its Aftermath Marc Shell, himself a victim of polio, offers an inspired analysis of the disease. Part memoir, part cultural criticism and history, part meditation on the meaning of disease, Shell's work combines the understanding of a medical researcher with the sensitivity of a literary critic. He deftly draws a detailed yet broad picture of the lived experience of a crippling disease as it makes it way into every facet of human existence.

Polio and Its Aftermath conveys the widespread panic that struck as the disease swept the world in the mid-fifties. It captures an atmosphere in which polio vied with the Cold War as the greatest cause of unrest in North America--and in which a strange and often debilitating uncertainty was one of the disease's salient but least treatable symptoms. Polio particularly afflicted the young, and Shell explores what this meant to families and communities. And he reveals why, in spite of the worldwide relief that greeted Jonas Salk's vaccine as a miracle of modern science, we have much more to fear from polio now than we know.

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Editorial Reviews

Financial Times

Marc Shell...makes some important points, including that polio has not been 'conquered,' if only because millions of its victims are still alive, often suffering from post-polio syndrome.
— Andrew Jack

American Historical Review

This book will be useful to anyone interested in the history and psychology of epidemics, in childhood in the first half of the twentieth century, and/or in disability studies.
— Elise Lemire

Daniel J. Wilson
Marc Shell's Polio and Its Aftermath is something of a hybrid. It is part memoir, part literary, film, and cultural criticism, part cultural history, and part meditation on the meaning of disease, especially the cultural meaning of polio. There is nothing quite like this book in the extant literature on polio. Nothing with the sweep and range of Shell's book has been previously published.
Julie K. Silver
Polio and Its Aftermath is distinctly original. There is nothing like it in the current literature. Shell's writing is at times witty and irreverent, but always outstanding. He uses some fabulous literary techniques that capture the reader's interest and imagination. Polio and Its Aftermath is truly outstanding.
Financial Times - Andrew Jack
Marc Shell...makes some important points, including that polio has not been 'conquered,' if only because millions of its victims are still alive, often suffering from post-polio syndrome.
American Historical Review - Elise Lamire
Marc Shell analyzes what he calls the vast field of "polio literature," namely published and unpublished works of poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, children's and adult literature that addresses polio either overtly or implicitly...Interspersed with his discussion of these cultural artifacts and technical developments is his personal account of contracting polio in Canada at the age of six. Shell moves easily between his own painful recollections and a dazzling array of texts...This book will be useful to anyone interested in the history and psychology of epidemics, in childhood in the first half of the twentieth century, and/or in disability studies.
American Historical Review - Elise Lemire
This book will be useful to anyone interested in the history and psychology of epidemics, in childhood in the first half of the twentieth century, and/or in disability studies.
Financial Times
Marc Shell...makes some important points, including that polio has not been 'conquered,' if only because millions of its victims are still alive, often suffering from post-polio syndrome.
— Andrew Jack
American Historical Review
This book will be useful to anyone interested in the history and psychology of epidemics, in childhood in the first half of the twentieth century, and/or in disability studies.
— Elise Lemire
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674013155
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,006,482
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 10.92 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Shell is Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of English at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

Prologue

I. AUTOBIOGRAPHIES OF A DISEASE

1. One Polio Story

2. In the Family

3. A Polio School

II. STASIS AND KINESIS

4. Paralytic Polio and Moving Pictures

5. Handi-Capitalism and Cinema Business

6. The Cast of Rear Window; or, Cinema and Akinesia

III. POLITICS

7 Polio and the Great Wars

8 Remembering Roosevelt

9 What We Can Learn, If We Hurry

AFTERMATH

Notes

Acknowledgments

Text Credits

Illustration Credits

List of Boxes

Name Index

Subject Index

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