Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio

Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio

by Jeffrey Kluger, Michael Prichard
     
 

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The riveting story of one of the greatest scientific accomplishments of the twentieth century, from the coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller Apollo 13. With rivalries, reversals, and a race against time, the struggle to eradicate polio is one of the great tales of modern history. It begins with the birth of Jonas Salk, shortly before one of the worst polio

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Overview

The riveting story of one of the greatest scientific accomplishments of the twentieth century, from the coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller Apollo 13. With rivalries, reversals, and a race against time, the struggle to eradicate polio is one of the great tales of modern history. It begins with the birth of Jonas Salk, shortly before one of the worst polio epidemics in United States history. At the time, the disease was a terrifying enigma: striking from out of nowhere, it afflicted tens of thousands of children in this country each year and left them-literally overnight-paralyzed, and sometimes at death's door. Salk was in medical school just as a president crippled by the disease, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was taking office-and providing the impetus to the drive for studies on polio. By the early 1950s, Salk had already helped create an influenza vaccine, and was hot on the trail of the polio virus. He was nearly thwarted, though, by the politics of medicine and by a rival researcher eager to discredit his proposed solution. Meanwhile, in 1952, polio was spreading in record numbers, with 57,000 cases in the United States that summer alone. In early 1954, Salk was weighing the possibility of trials of a not-yet-perfected vaccine against-as the summer approached-the prospect of thousands more children being struck down by the disease. The results of the history-making trials were announced at a press conference on April 12, 1955: "The vaccine works." The room-and an entire nation-erupted in cheers for this singular medical achievement. Salk became a cultural hero and icon for a whole generation. Now, at the fiftieth anniversary of the first national vaccination program-and as humanity is tantalizingly close to eradicating polio worldwide-comes this unforgettable chronicle. Salk's work was an unparalleled achievement-and it makes for a magnificent read.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Agent, Joy Harris Literary Agency. (Feb. 1) Forecast: The 50th anniversary of Salk's polio vaccine will be commemorated by a Smithsonian exhibit, among other events. This year is also the World Health Organization's target for eliminating polio worldwide. Sales for this title by a previously bestselling author should be very brisk. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
April marks the 50th anniversary of the pronouncement that Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was considered safe and effective, which in turn denoted a step toward conquering this devastating disease. Drawing on Salk's personal papers and the March of Dimes archives-along with extensive interviews with Salk's sons and other key players-Kluger (Lost Moon, the basis for the Apollo 13 movie) wonderfully illustrates the complexity of Salk's personality and how his tenacity helped to push forward the concept of a killed vaccine despite a great deal of opposition. Kluger covers many of the same events as Richard Carter's Breakthrough; while Carter had the advantage of interviewing Salk and his colleagues soon after the vaccine became available, Kluger nicely complements the earlier book by providing a fresh look at events based on a historical perspective of the disease's progress and eradication attempts by the World Health Organization. This fascinating read is recommended for all public and undergraduate libraries, including those holding Carter's book.-Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A mighty medical event occurred half a century ago, when the curse of polio-of youthful paralysis and suffocating death-was conquered. It was then that the vaccine developed by Dr. Salk was pronounced safe and effective and mass inoculations began. There was Jenner in the 18th century, Pasteur in the 19th. Add, for the 20th, Jonas Salk (1914-95). Time writer Kluger (Moon Hunters, 1999) tells the story of the able and ambitious young researcher who launched his battle against the awful illness back when Franklin Roosevelt, most prominent among the disease's many victims, sponsored the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes) under the direction of his law partner, Basil O'Connor. O'Connor's name, the palliative treatments of Sister Kenny, or the fearsome contraption, the Iron Lung, may now be largely forgotten-thanks to the efforts of scientists like Salk, who was happily diverted from law or rabbinical studies to City College and NYU Medical School, and then, during WWII, to research on a flu vaccine. Kluger tells the stories of individual victims of polio. He notes the political infighting and describes the establishment of the Pittsburgh lab. He salutes the sacrificial monkeys and mice and recognizes the painstaking task of isolating strains and types of the disease. The science is made accessible, though sometimes it's freely dramatized, as, for example, in the personification of little pathogens. Salk's investigations were devoted to the use of killed virus, to be administered by needle. Albert Sabin, depicted as his everlasting nemesis, promoted the use of live virus, given by sugar cube. (Only recently was the Sabin method fully phased out.) Among thefirst vaccinated: Salk's lab colleagues, his family, and himself. While Kluger does recall the excitement of the announcement 50 years ago, he scants the inventor's life story thereafter. Still, in this unabashedly laudatory history, the story of the achievement is a terrific one. Scientific triumph by a medical hero, described with admiration and lucidity. (Photos, not seen. Agent: Joy Harris/Joy Harris Literary Agency

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400131495
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
04/28/2005
Edition description:
Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.74(w) x 6.30(h) x 0.99(d)

Meet the Author

Michael Prichard has recorded well over five hundred audiobooks and was named one of SmartMoney magazine's Top Ten Golden Voices. His numerous awards and accolades include an Audie Award and several AudioFile Earphones Awards.

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