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Polio: An American Story

by

Polio: An American Story Cover

 

Awards

2006 Pulitzer Prize for History

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

All who lived in the early 1950s remember the fear of polio and the elation felt when a successful vaccine was found. Now 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.

Here is a remarkable portrait of America in the early 1950s, using the widespread panic over polio to shed light on our national obsessions and fears. 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. Indeed, the competition was marked by a deep-seated ill will among the researchers that remained with them until their deaths. The author 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. As backdrop to this feverish research, Oshinsky offers an insightful look at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which was founded in the 1930s by FDR and Basil O'Connor. The National Foundation revolutionized fundraising and the perception of disease in America, using poster children and the famous March of Dimes to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from a vast army of contributors (instead of a few well-heeled benefactors), creating the largest research and rehabilitation network in the history of medicine.

The polio experience also 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.

The Salk vaccine trials were the largest public-health experiment in American history, involving more than a million school children. Both a gripping scientific suspense story and a provocative social and cultural history, Polio opens a fresh window onto postwar America.

Review:

"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Oshinsky vividly retells one of the greatest of all American success stories and reveals the clash of egos and interests, science and salesmanship that made it possible."Geoffrey C. Ward, author of A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt

Review:

"In this riveting story of America's battle with polio, we learn that government, philanthropy, media, 'big science,' and public fear were all powerful factors to be reckoned with as well. Be prepared for an infectious read." Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

Review:

"Polio: An American Story is a rich and illuminating analysis that convincingly grounds the ways and means of modern American research in the response to polio." New York Times

Review:

"A thorough history. Readable, often exciting, filled with ambitious characters, it is science writing at its most engrossing." Chicago Tribune

Review:

"This lively, entertaining and informative book will help readers who didn't experience polio understand both the terror it caused and the competing social and political urges that eventually conquered it." Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

Synopsis:

Drawing on newly available papers of Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin, and other key players, Oshinsky paints a remarkable portrait of America in the early 1950s, using the widespread panic over polio to shed light on national obsessions and fears.

Synopsis:

The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world. But that wealth hasn't translated to a higher life expectancy, an area where the United States still ranks thirty-eighthand#151;behind Cuba, Chile, Costa Rica, and Greece, among many others. Some fault the absence of universal health care or the persistence of social inequalities. Others blame unhealthy lifestyles. But these emphases on present-day behaviors and policies miss a much more fundamental determinant of societal health: the state.

Werner Troesken looks at the history of the United States with a focus on three diseasesand#151;smallpox, typhoid fever, and yellow feverand#151;to show how constitutional rules and provisions that promoted individual liberty and economic prosperity also influenced, for good and for bad, the countryand#8217;s ability to eradicate infectious disease. Ranging from federalism under the Commerce Clause to the Contract Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, Troesken argues persuasively that many institutions intended to promote desirable political or economic outcomes also hindered the provision of public health. We are unhealthy, in other words, at least in part because our political and legal institutions function well. Offering a compelling new perspective, The Pox of Liberty challenges many traditional claims that infectious diseases are inexorable forces in human history, beyond the control of individual actors or the state, revealing them instead to be the result of public and private choices.

Synopsis:

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.

About the Author

David Oshinsky is a George Littlefield Professor of History at the University of Texas and the author of Worse Than Slavery and A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780195152944
Author:
Oshinsky, David M.
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Author:
null, David M.
Author:
Troesken, Werner
Subject:
History
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
Infectious Diseases
Subject:
Poliomyelitis
Subject:
History, American | Since 1945
Subject:
Health and Medicine-History of Medicine
Subject:
Economic History
Copyright:
Edition Number:
Reprint ed.
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Series:
Markets and Governments in Economic History
Publication Date:
April 12, 2005
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
30 halftones
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Polio: An American Story Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$12.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Oxford University Press - English 9780195152944 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Oshinsky vividly retells one of the greatest of all American success stories and reveals the clash of egos and interests, science and salesmanship that made it possible."
"Review" by , "In this riveting story of America's battle with polio, we learn that government, philanthropy, media, 'big science,' and public fear were all powerful factors to be reckoned with as well. Be prepared for an infectious read."
"Review" by , "Polio: An American Story is a rich and illuminating analysis that convincingly grounds the ways and means of modern American research in the response to polio."
"Review" by , "A thorough history. Readable, often exciting, filled with ambitious characters, it is science writing at its most engrossing."
"Review" by , "This lively, entertaining and informative book will help readers who didn't experience polio understand both the terror it caused and the competing social and political urges that eventually conquered it."
"Synopsis" by , Drawing on newly available papers of Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin, and other key players, Oshinsky paints a remarkable portrait of America in the early 1950s, using the widespread panic over polio to shed light on national obsessions and fears.
"Synopsis" by ,
The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world. But that wealth hasn't translated to a higher life expectancy, an area where the United States still ranks thirty-eighthand#151;behind Cuba, Chile, Costa Rica, and Greece, among many others. Some fault the absence of universal health care or the persistence of social inequalities. Others blame unhealthy lifestyles. But these emphases on present-day behaviors and policies miss a much more fundamental determinant of societal health: the state.

Werner Troesken looks at the history of the United States with a focus on three diseasesand#151;smallpox, typhoid fever, and yellow feverand#151;to show how constitutional rules and provisions that promoted individual liberty and economic prosperity also influenced, for good and for bad, the countryand#8217;s ability to eradicate infectious disease. Ranging from federalism under the Commerce Clause to the Contract Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, Troesken argues persuasively that many institutions intended to promote desirable political or economic outcomes also hindered the provision of public health. We are unhealthy, in other words, at least in part because our political and legal institutions function well. Offering a compelling new perspective, The Pox of Liberty challenges many traditional claims that infectious diseases are inexorable forces in human history, beyond the control of individual actors or the state, revealing them instead to be the result of public and private choices.

"Synopsis" by , 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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