Sarah's Reviews > Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio

Splendid Solution by Jeffrey Kluger
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's review
Dec 04, 2014

liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, history, health, science
Read in July, 2007

Finally I got around to reading the 2007 All Iowa Reads book. Public libraries around the state have been sponsoring discussions of Splendid Solution and will continue to do so throughout the year. The story starts with the polio epidemics of the early 20th century, focusing on one in Manhattan in the summer of 1916 when Jonas Salk was a toddler. Salk's later childhood and early adulthood are also put in context of major polio incidents including Franklin Roosevelt's struggle with the disease and the creation of the Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now know as the March of Dimes), which became the primary sponsor for polio research. The later chapters of the book focus solely on the work of Salk and his team to create the miracle vaccine just as the worst polio seasons ever hit the country.

As someone born years after Salk's vaccine made polio a distant memory, I really appreciated Kluger's decision to discuss polio in the context of American society during the first half of the 20th century. Sure, he could have been more detailed in his science, but for a general audience book like this, I think a socially focused story was more appropriate. It really struck a chord with me to learn how panicked mothers kept their children from going to the park and panicked cities prevented children from going to movie theaters and public swimming pools in the hopes of preventing the spread of this debilitating illness. I also appreciated seeing the political finesse required to navigate the scientific research community. While it's easy to get fed up with the bureaucracy of such set ups, it's truly inspiring to watch someone navigate those treacherous waters in order to accomplish something truly incredible for the common good.

Reading the stories posted by Iowans who remember polio, I realize there are a lot of details about the disease, especially it's treatment that I would I would have liked to read more about, but I understand that a book about the polio vaccine is going to focus on prevention rather than treatment. Essentially I'm impressed that a book on a topic I wasn't terribly interested in, now has me wanting to learn more about that topic.

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