Pub. Date:
Oxford University Press
Polio: An American Story

Polio: An American Story

by David M. Oshinsky
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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780195307146
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 08/31/2006
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 238,215
Product dimensions: 9.20(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

David M. Oshinsky is Professor of History at New York University and Director of the Division of Medical Humanities at the NYU School of Medicine. A leading historian of modern American politics and society, he is the author of A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy and "Worse Than Slavery": Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice, both of which won major prizes and were New York Times Notable Books.

Table of Contents

1The First Epidemics8
2Warm Springs24
3"Cripples' Money"43
4"And They Shall Walk"61
5Poster Children, Marching Mothers79
6The Apprenticeship of Jonas Salk92
7Pathway to a Vaccine112
8The Starting Line128
9Seeing Beyond the Microscope145
10"Plague Season"161
11The Rivals174
12"The Biggest Public Health Experiment Ever"188
13The Cutter Fiasco214
14Mission to Moscow237
15Sabin Sundays255
16Celebrities and Survivors269
Selected Bibliography328

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Polio: An American Story 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi, my name is Addison I am in 5th grade and i am doing a book project on this book. This book is very informitive if you are doing a report or reading to find interesting information. The book you are planing on reading(this book) would be a wounderful experience to read . I recomend this book.
PierresFamily More than 1 year ago
For the last several decades, I have read about a dozen books about polio, and this is by far the most informative.  The book would be better without Mr. Oshinsky's second-guessing of the people who actually lived through the frightening epidemics. As the saying goes, "hindsight is 20-20," and in fact, some of the beliefs that he laughingly mentions, turned out to be true. For example, he mentions that at the time of the epidemics, some people believed that germs were on money. And in fact, recent studies have consistenly proved that very fact; dollar bills are notorious for their abundance of E. Coli, and likely harbor other microbes, as well. But If you can get past the arrogant, cynical attitude of the author, you will likely be glad that you persevered. The book takes you behind the scenes, and at the end, you feel like you actually knew the key "players" in the race to discover a viable vaccine. And as a bonus, if you grew up in the late 1950s or early 1960s as I did, you will especially appreciate how the book "fills in the blanks;" you will be able to figure out whether you received the live or dead vaccine etc. If you only read one book about how polio affected America, this should be the one that you choose.
2wheelnurse More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent review on the history of polio in the US and the pursuit of a vaccine. It's easy in today's world to forget polio once was a very serious disease in the US. The author did a good job translating the science of vaccine research into language the average person could understand. It also provides a nice historical context of government's expansion of public health.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky was really, really interesting. I had no idea that polio was such an intense subject and that everyone was so terrified of getting it. To tell the truth I wasn¿t even positive what it was. I love how Oshinsky shows how vulnerable we were to such scares in America and how the fear of contracting polio spread like wildfire. He reveals in the book that polio was a lot more uncommon than the media led on, and that in postwar America there was no quicker and easier way to come together than fighting against a raging epidemic. My mom and her brother were born in the very early 50¿s, and I brought up polio when in the middle of this book. She told me how my grandmother wouldn¿t let them go swimming in public pools and how she had to get the polio vaccine when she was seven. She said my grandmother and her friends¿ moms were constantly worried about it, it became a daily part of life. She showed me a circle-like scar on her arm from the vaccine. I found out my dad had one as well. Hearing my parents talk about it made it seem very real. This book was really informative but it also left me in suspense- he painted a nervous America really well. I was always right with the people he described in hoping for a cure. Without being boring, Oshinsky talks about Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk, two rivals searching for the perfect vaccine. I think this book was a really interesting read because I found things out like how this is when the famous March of Dimes began and stuff like that, but it also had vivid stories of real people that tug at your heartstrings. -Stefanie
ALDavis More than 1 year ago
I noticed this book was mentioned in the credits of a PBS "American Experience" program on the polio epidemic, so I decided to read it. Dr. Oshinsky chronicles the paranoia, publicity, and politics of polio, as well as the race to develop a vaccine. There were costly errors in the early days of vaccine research and a number of false starts. Researchers were essentially battling each other, criticizing each other's methods and findings. There were problems with the vaccine manufacturing process that led to new cases of the disease. It was anything but a simple process. The entire book represents a fascinating account of the polio epidemic and eventual eradication of the disease. I found that I couldn't wait to read further to see what happened next.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Professor Oshinsky leads the reader into an unexpected and enlightening study of one of America's greatest triumphs and struggles in Medical History. Highly recommended for any student of history or medicine. Good page turner on a subject matter that usually is not fun to read about. Easy and Accessible. Oshinsky teaches at the University of Texas Austin.
ElizabethPisani on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An intelligent, well-researched and well-written book. Many of us in the HIV field feel that AIDS is the epidemic that has rewritten public health. This book reminds us that in the field of manipulating public opinion, lobbying for political commitment and many other areas, polio preceded us by several decades.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The only things I remember about polio are being unable to go the swimming pool in the summer and standing in line for the Salk vaccine. David M. Oshinsky fleshes out the story of the behind-the-scenes bickering and competition between Salk and Sabin, and how the "March of Dimes" changed the world of fundraising forever. I had no idea that little of the research to produce a vaccine was funded by the government. It was pretty much -- for good or ill -- the work of the March of Dimes. Reading a book about a dreaded disease that killed and paralyzed children may sound like a downer. Not so. It's a fascinating story by an author who makes science writing accessible to all readers. I couldn't put it down.8/5/2010
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Race to Cure PolioIn this highly engaging historical narrative, Historian David M. Oshinsky highlights the race for a vaccine for poliomyetitis. The story is one of tragedy and triumph, controversy and concensus.What makes this story worth telling? The triumph over Polio in the United States during the post-war period represents a landmark in the history of medicine and technology, of human progress. The process that led to the Salk and Sabine vaccines is a true American success story, borne out of the good old American values of hard work and determination.The story of how America conquered Polio is not without its controversies and skeptics. There was a real sense both at the time and looking back that "Polio had been oversold as a menace to public health" (p.239). That the Dimes March On campaign, the posters with the poor suffering children, had created a false panic. That this relatively uncommon disease had been turned into a public-relations media blitz which threatened the ethics of scientific research. It was the first campaign of its kind, and though controversial as it was, it was ultimately successful through its relentless advertising, fund-raising and lobbying efforts; it helped pave the way for all future disease awareness campaigns.At the heart of Oshinsky's narrative is the intense competition between rivals Jonas Salk and Albert Sabine over the race to a vaccine. Salk was the first to come up with his killed-virus vaccine but not without his critics who labeled Salk a quack and sell-out for rushing to market his vaccine. Oshinsky calls the 1954 Salk polio vaccine field trials, "the biggest medical gamble in history" (p.189). And indeed it was, and almost failed miserably after the Cutter fiasco where 1 pharmacy manufacturer had mishandled the production of the Salk vaccine allowing some live viruses to mix with the production batch.Oshinsky further provides insights into the ethical dilemmas all scientists face such as conducting vaccination trials on "volunteers" and the treatment of lab animals. The story is not so black and white as it may appear.It is also worth noting that during the period, 1945-1956, regulation of public health was nowhere near the level it is today in the United States.Overall, Oshinsky delivers both as a Historian and a great storyteller. Oshinsky is well deserving of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in history for this significant contribution to the scientific and social history of the post-war US period.
Meggo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The tortured history of a disease that devastated thousands. This book describes the history of the disease and attempts to cure it, and all the political infighting that resulted. Of course, any history of polio will be overshadowed by perhaps its most famous sufferer - Franklin D. Roosevelt - and this book is in a way his story, too. Recommended for people who enjoy books about medical discovery.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I used this book for a natinal history dy project and it worked grate. It had lots of amazing details
Highland253 More than 1 year ago
I like non fiction but this book was particularly a page turner
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