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Polio: An American Story

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  3,506 Ratings  ·  309 Reviews

Multiple New York Times Notable Book winner and University of Texas professor, David M. Oshinsky is a leading American political and cultural historian. Garnering the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in History, this comprehensive and gripping narrative covers all the challenges, characters, and controversies in America's relentless struggle against polio. Funded by

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MP3 Book, 0 pages
Published March 26th 2010 by Recorded Books, LLC (first published 2005)
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Patricia When this book was written in 2005, the estimate was that up to half of the polio survivors developed PPS. This condition was known in the 1980's. I…moreWhen this book was written in 2005, the estimate was that up to half of the polio survivors developed PPS. This condition was known in the 1980's. I remember because I wrote a paper about it in 1990. The reasons for the syndrome were as described in the book.(less)
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Jan 22, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My older brother died before I was born due to bulbar polio in 1949. As a result, my parents decided to try again so I can say I am here due to polio.

Naturally this book caught my eye when I spotted in on a friend's bookshelf and reading it I discovered how little I knew about the disease and the people involved with finding a cure.

The book can be divided into two parts - the first dealing with the period up to the death of FDR (who had the disease) and the second dealing with the effort to find
Kressel Housman
I know it’s become cliché, particularly in my reviews, to say that a history book reads like a novel, but this one really does, and not just a contemplative novel, but a page-turning drama. The protagonist is Dr. Jonas Salk and he and rival scientist Dr. Albert Sabin are in a race to conquer a truly frightening enemy: the polio epidemic.

Having read Laser, I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked that science is as ego-driven as any other pursuit, but the self-interest of the scientists was prett
Feb 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As has been said, this book reads like a mystery. Fascinating details about the disease, its history, the times, the medicine, the pain, the people who fought to eradicate it and the politics. I realized that I was one of the children on whom the vaccine was tested in 1954. I remember clearly being taken in to the cafeteria at St. Austin's School and being lined up to get the shot. I am told I cried but don't remember that part! Of course, at eight years, I had no idea of the controversy and the ...more
Such an interesting account of the history of the quest of a vaccine for polio. Amazing that so much was done by a private agency with volunteers and donations from the American public. Such a shame to see the petty rivals among the scientists.
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Happy to learn about a disease, now conquered in this country, but that was held in such dread less than a century ago. Some highlights(Spoilers?): President Roosevelt hid his disability from the public with the help of reporters(!) It was the first time the nation came together to donate money for a health issue. Many monkeys died for the sake of the vaccine. Unethical testing was done on institutionalized children. TWO MILLION CHILDREN were part of a National TRIAL to discover the effectivenes ...more
Nov 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this Pulitzer Prize winner on the recommendation of Dan Jewett, Social Studies Chair at Manchester Essex RHS. As a polio victim myself (at age 5 in 1952), I well remember the Sister Kenny treatments (hot wool wraps on my affected legs) and the physical therapy that my mother did with me. Oshinsky was taken the story and made a drama of the race to create a vaccine. The Salk/Sabin race, the origins and strategies of the March of Dimes (which paid for all my treatment), and the controversy ...more
Jeanne Adamek
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I remember my mother saying the reason that she never learned to swim as a child was because of the fear of polio. I am not old enough to remember the braces on childrens legs or the iron lung so after reading David M. Oshinsky's Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital, which I found to be exceedingly well written, I decided to try this book. Polio: An American Story turned out to be just as well written. The author takes us in to the time where polio ...more
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great turn of events surrounding post WWII. The advancements in cleanliness with the sprawling of the suburbs brought about an awakening of a common disease that usually young children are exposed to and built immunity against quickly. Boys were especially hit hard and class distinction played a part where the middle class was more susceptible. War brought with it field studies involving vaccinations for flu and yellow fever so fighting polio would have a laid out plan to follow.
Polio was rea
Long but intriguing history of a medical mystery. There's lots about science in here, of course, but there's also politics, technology, persuasion, and international relations. Oshinsky provides mini-biographies of FDR, Salk, Sabin, and many others.

I didn't know that the March of Dimes name was a pun on the March of Time, a popular newsreel back in the day. I didn't realize that Canada treated polio as a public health emergency and planned for months to distribute polio vaccine as soon as it was
Aug 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-sci-med
I have a masochistic streak which drives me to read the opinions of pundits. As a result, I am subjected to a lot of gaseous carping by soreheads about how bad everything has come to be. Yearning for the good old days yourself? Consider this scenario:

Day 1: Everything fine -- a beautiful summer day.
Day 2: After a day of exercise, you have a stiff neck and are very tired.
Day 3: You have polio -- you're in agony.
Day 4 until the end of your life: You are a helpless cripple in an iron lung, bankrupt
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Excellent account of the history of the campaign against polio in the US. Perhaps my experience as a polio survivor influences my reaction to the book. However, this is the first book that has made me want to know more about this terrible disease. I would have liked to have read even more about the social history of reactions to polio. I think a lot of reviewers are too young to understand how the threat of polio really paralyzed our society and distorted childhood experiences for many.
Bob Schmitz
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A fascinating book about the history of polio in the United States and the development of vaccines eradicated it. The rise of polio in the United States seems to come about with the increase cleanliness of America in the early part of the 20th century. Before 1900 few Americans bathed more than once a week or washed their hair more than once a month and few washed their hands before eating after using the toilet.

With the discovery of microbes in the 1870s and the development of the germ theory
Oct 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Workman-like and competent, this book is Pulitzer Prize material more because of the weakness of field that year (the other 2006 nominees were New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan & The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln) than the impressiveness of this very uneven volume.

Oshinsky's primary interest, and his real talent as an author lies in describing the personalities that pushed the search for a cure forward and their relationship
Ana Rusness-petersen
I set out to read "Polio: An American Story" as a window into better understanding the culture at the height of polio and the experience my dad likely had as a victim of polio. This ended up being a great book that taught me a lot about the history and experience of polio, as well as a great deal about the process of vaccine creation and politics.

This book traces the polio virus from its earliest emergence ultimately to 2005, the year this book was published. It definitely has as its backbone th
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Despite my maternal grandmother’s childhood struggle with polio and my own participation in the iconic March of Dimes campaign in elementary school, I was entirely ignorant of what has been called the “20th century’s most feared disease” until recently reading David Oshinsky’s Polio: An American Story. This 2006 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History was recommended to me by a good college friend who is pursuing his MD/PhD at UCLA and is writing his dissertation on the singular place Poliomyeli ...more
Feb 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Warning,-long review, spoiler alert, they find a vaccine for POLIO
Polio, An American Story isn’t just a book about infantile paralysis in the 1950’s, it’s a book rich with American history and while I generally am loathsome of such detail and find it distracting to the main point, I couldn’t get enough of it in this book and found the authors extraordinary detail only enlightening.
Oshinsky begins by explaining that the state of the American Medical institutions in the 1900 was both dangerous an
Aug 04, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's interesting that the polio vaccine is hailed as a scientific milestone when the disease was relatively rare in the US. I didn't know much about polio prior to reading this, and had pictured it as a public health threat just below that of the Spanish flu of 1918. However, its incidence (100,000 cases in 1954) was trumped up by the incredible funding provided by the March of Dimes, which, in turn, was funded by polio's most visible victim, Franklin Roosevelt. I would have loved a story of the ...more
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, well-written book. The book sort of starts with FDR as the impetus behind the national crusade against polio. I was planning to judge the author harshly if he didn't acknowledge current theories that FDR had not been struck by polio but by Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which as an armchair diagnostician I find convincing based on his age and the bilateral involvement. Oshinsky passed the test.

The book covers both the social and the scientific angles, describing equally adeptly the birth
Mar 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though this was a broad-ranging and fascinating book, I highlighted only 1 sentence in it: "Today the word 'polio' describes a vaccine to be taken, not a disease to be feared." Wow! What an inspiration to anyone who works in medical research, particularly in vaccine research. The 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winner for history, this book examines themes that are far from merely historical but are the same challenges that occupy us today: competing research priorities and development programs, internation ...more
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people in the medical field
This book is a readable story of the research that led to the development of the polio vaccine. The author starts out with a very approachable and interesting story that ends up
(two thirds of the way) muddled in too many details and going in too many tangents of names and places that were just not necessary to tell the story. As a member of the medical community I felt obligated to read it. Read it if you feel inclined and have the extra time, you will learn a bit about polio and the vaccine's
Karen Bayley-ewell
Another must read for anyone entering the biological sciences..! A great medical history book that really gives an insight into the human fight against the Poliovirus that left children permanently disabled, and sometimes in an iron-lung. This book brings home the torment suffered by children and parents alike during the desperate search for a prevention throughout the decades of the last century.
Susan O
This is an excellent book. I enjoyed it almost as much as "The Great Influenza" by John Barry. The science is easy to understand and the history is interesting. I was born after much of this occurred, but I do remember the "March of Dimes" door to door collections and standing in line to get my sugar cube.

If you have an interest in medical history, it is definitely one you would enjoy.
Margaret Sankey
Well-done medical social history with coverage of polio's political links to FDR and Warm Springs, the raging rivalry between Salk and Sabin (and the live vs. killed virus vaccine), institutionalized children as test subjects, the key role of women researchers in the labs and ultimately, the invention of all the tools of big-time fund raising by the March of Dimes
Rachel Jones
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding. Finally, a recent Pulitzer Prize winner I can get behind.
I was born in 1963, which means I've lived my entire life in the post-polio era. I've had the luxury of not having to know much about this disease, other than that it's one of the many childhood vaccines that we all receive. So it was interesting to read this history of polio in America and learn so much about polio that I didn't know that I didn't know.

David M. Oshinksy's book is both a scientific story about the search for solution to polio (ultimately that came in the form of a vaccine, and n
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While not my favorite, this is a solid read with which I had few problems in terms of style or content. I always want a little more focus on the clinical details of how a disease functions, exactly, this is probably enough for most folks. The story is well paced, balanced, and respectful to the principals without descending into hagiography. It's more the sort of thing you'd want to read for a history of disease and public policy than for a social history of polio, but that's in many ways the on ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
tl;dr Read the book, but don't be afraid to skim sections when it slows down.

How Oshinsky won the Pulitzer for this and not Worse Than Slavery is pretty hard to understand. I picked this up because I'm interested in epidemiology, medical history, and I loved Oshinsky's other work. But I found this to be a fairly bloated slog.

While it starts briskly, the book turns to focus almost entirely on the careers of the scientists involved in polio research in the first half of the 20th century and mostly
Charlotte Gooding
Really interesting story of the polio vaccine...I learned a lot. A bit dry at times because of the politics involved between Salk and Sabin but overall I have a much better understanding of polio and the history behind it.
Ellen Marcoux
Really interesting history, I enjoyed learning about the successful quest for a polio vaccine from a sophisticated medical historian who well explained not only the political context but also the technical hurdles and their long-term implications.
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Politics aside, an interesting book

The book spent a lot of time describing the fundraising, campaigning, and fighting among three principal researchers regarding the vaccine. Too much time, IMHO. The medical and othrt scientific information kept my interest.
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Did anyone else read this because of Freakonomics? 9 16 Aug 14, 2013 10:47AM  
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