Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine

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9780688094942: Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine

In 1905, few Americans had ever heard of polio, the mysterious new disease that seemed to arrive so suddenly at the beginning of the century, but for the next 50 years it stalked the nightmares of every parent. Then, in the spring of 1954, several million people eagerly volunteered their children as test subjects for a new vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. PATENTING THE SUN makes real to us the people & events behind the development of Salk's vaccine. Beginning with Franklin Roosevelt's private battle against paralysis, PATENTING THE SUN describes how a small lab experiment became a huge national event. The testing of the vaccine was the largest field trial ever held, the greatest peacetime mobilization of civilians in American history, & the most eagerly observed & heavily promoted scientific program until the space launches a decade later. The announcement in 1955 that the vaccine worked became a landmark in 20th century history, one of the few public events that burned itself into the consciousness of the world because the news was good. Based on over 100 hours of interviews & 5 years of research into scientific & historical sources (including Salk's unpublished papers), PATENTING THE SUN is a chronicle of people--of the shifting alliances of scientists, politicians, businessmen, and volunteers who took the campaign against polio from Warm Springs Georgia, to the White House & on to the living rooms & classrooms of America. It tells the stories of Jonas Salk, a promising young scientist who became an overnight international hero, Dr. Albert Sabin, the senior researcher at work on a competing vaccine, and Basil O'Connor, president of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The result is the suspenseful, supremely readable human drama that lay behind what many saw as the greatest medical triumph of their age, & a richly detailed narrative that communicates the immediacy & spirit of science as no formal account has done since the Double Helix.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Paralytic polio went from epidemic outbreak to near-extinction in 50 years. This medical triumph involved more than the daring of Jonas Salk, who developed a killer-virus vaccine against the advice of his colleagues, and of his rival Albert Sabin, whose oral live-virus vaccine is now widely used. The war on polio is also the story of the March of Dimes, mass field-testing of the vaccine on schoolchildren, accidental deaths, scientists jockeying for prestige and power, and the importation of large numbers of monkeys. A Northwestern University visiting scholar, Smith unconvincingly links FDR's struggle with crippling polio to the nation's turning "to the language of polio" in the 1930s ("Business was 'paralyzed,' the economy was 'crippled' "). Her contention that the 1950s vaccination program drew popular support from the Cold War's "atmosphere of mass vulnerability" seems dubious, as do some of her sociological interpretations. Even so, this exciting, dramatic narrative tells a comprehensive story of the conquest of polio and sheds fresh light on the politics of medicine. Photos. Author tour.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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