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Paralysed with Fear: The Story of Polio Hardcover – Jul 17 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2013 edition (June 27 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1137299754
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137299758
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.8 x 24.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 739 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #882,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"As Williams's punchy book reveals, the history of polio is quite an extraordinary one." - The Guardian

"Williams is good on the terror [polio] inspired...and strongest of all is Williams's highly entertaining description of the poisonous rivalry between scientists... His tale of vendetta and bitterness reminds us that even medical heroes can be as jealous and petty as the rest of us." - The Times

"A splendid book, riveting from beginning to end a model of its kind." - Literary Review

"An absorbing new history of the disease personal accounts are woven through the story with consummate skill." - Times Higher Education

"This book is a compelling story of how human ingenuity, ruthless competition, money and science have played a key role in driving polio to the brink of extinction." - New Internationalist

"Williams has written a story about good and evil, successfully making poliovirus a villain in a gripping, multiact play His book should be read by anyone interested in science, medicine, history, and public health. And by anyone interested in an incredible story told by a great storyteller." - The Lancet

"An engaging narrative and critical commentary a great strength of the book is that all of the competing ideas are covered, giving the reader a wonderfully rich picture of 20th-century medicine in all its forms Paralysed With Fear can be recommended both as a wonderful biography of polio and a revealing story of the development of 20th-century medicine, warts and all." - BBC History

"Williams negotiates the hairpin bends of polio's history with aplomb a detailed, science-rich treatment." - Nature

"There is plenty of drama in the polio story, and Williams's skills as a writer come to the fore here he has mastered his material and is at his best in explaining why the science and therapeutics were good and bad, and why it has been possible to think about the global eradication of this awful disease in the first place." - Times Literary Supplement

"Thrilling tale of man's war against polio...Williams does an excellent job in describing ambitious, vain and wrongheaded scientists; said scientists' feuds researchers who fell out of favour; horrible treatment trial fiascos; and FDR's fate, which served as quite the tool for bringing about what may be the biggest fundraising campaign of all time." - The Book Bag

"Authoritative and insightful, warm in tone and compulsively readable, Paralysed with Fear is a welcome addition to the Polio history canon." - British Polio Fellowship

"Gareth Williams' new book about poliomyelitis, and the attempts to follow the example of smallpox by eradicating a second dreaded infection from the world, is fascinating...a compelling read." - Professor Alasdair Geddes CBE

"A wonderfully enlightening read. It takes the reader on a long and exciting ride through the history of polio." - Dr Don Francis

"I would say this is a really great book for all the obvious reasons (that include diligent and clear research, and a clear narrative of the history of polio) but it is also great because it tells you about the reality of medical research." - Wendy Gagen, 'Reviews in History', the Institute of Historical Research

"A wonderful biography of polio and a revealing story of the development of 20th-century medicine, warts and all." - BBC History Magazine

About the Author

GARETH WILLIAMS is Professor of Medicine and former Dean of Faculty at the University of Bristol, UK. He has written or co-authored over 20 books, including the Textbook of Diabetes (BMA Book of the Year, 1997) and has contributed to more than 30 others, including the Oxford Textbook of Medicine. Inspired by the life of Edward Jenner, Gareth wrote Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox, which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize in 2010.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9f6488ac) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ed3a6b4) out of 5 stars The Messy Conquest of Polio Aug. 14 2013
By Rob Hardy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
We think of scientific advances, especially those that have a humanitarian bent like medical research, as being claimed in a harmonious effort between individuals and teams. A little conflict due to competition is accepted, but the participants do have a higher good in mind and work for the benefit of humanity. This may actually be the case for many research efforts; it was not the case in the search for the cure of polio. Let us take pride that polio is all but vanished now; it's a magnificent accomplishment. Victory, however, was not gained by idealistic heroes, but by self-interested and flawed rivals who used practices of shameful ethics and skullduggery to gain their points. "There are few gentlemen in the history of polio," writes Gareth Williams, a British doctor who besides medical texts has written about the conquest of smallpox. His _Paralysed with Fear: The Story of Polio_ (Palgrave MacMillan) describes the messy way the job of controlling polio got done. Most doctors these days will not see a case of polio; it was a disease that defined the twentieth century, and if we let it continue further into the twenty-first, we have only human folly to blame. Williams's book shows how long the journey took, and how often it was made longer by entrenched ideas, distrust among peers, and simple bad faith. Williams has amassed many details for a fascinating and amusing history of how a laudable achievement came about despite often disgraceful behavior on the part of researchers who should have acted a little more like dispassionate searchers after truth.

It was clear from the first that episodes came from a disease that was contagious, but the cause was not clear; it might have been blueberries or Italians or cats or flies or sugar. The sad fact is, however, that a Viennese pathologist, Karl Landsteiner, demonstrated beyond doubt that polio was caused by a virus in 1908. Researchers instead competed by championing their own pet theories for the next five decades, and it is a sorry story of botched or distorted studies during the period that clouded the actual discovery of the virus. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin had their own problems. Salk brought out an injectable vaccine in 1954, using a deactivated virus. He tested it on himself, his team, and family members, and then on inmates of a Home for Crippled Children near Pittsburgh, founded to support "destitute white children, crippled or deformed." When it came time to do the huge field tests of 1954, he was so sure he had everything right, he insisted that a control population for the experiment was superfluous, which would have made the trials meaningless. The vaccine worked realistically, but nothing could convince Salk it was not perfect, 100% effective and with no risk to anyone vaccinated. He never could accept that an injected vaccine had disadvantages which were not present in the oral vaccine which Sabin developed. The polio virus is spread by being swallowed and entering the gut; the live but weakened Sabin formulation promoted an intestinal immunity, a first line of defense. Sabin's vaccination was cheaper and had no needles, but he, too, thought that his was perfect and without flaw. He also was generally hated by his peers, even if they admired his achievements. "He was also the one who channeled the greatest energy into undermining his competitors and displayed the most obvious pleasure from seeing them run into misfortune." Neither Salk nor Sabin could allow that the vaccine of the other had any place in modern medicine; they seem to have hated each other.

And yet both vaccines had, and continue to have, their place. There is a tiny risk that Sabin's oral vaccine can revert back to a dangerous virus, and so the injected Salk version has come back into play. The one-two punch of both has meant that we are on the brink of eradicating polio. And we have been on the brink for some time, and it seems that we will just stay there. Williams writes, "I began this book in the spring of 2011 with the naïve hope that I could end it with a pithy epitaph for polio. Now, it is depressingly clear that this will have to wait, possibly for many years to come." His book, a history full of smart and flawed men, ends up with real villains: the Taliban threatened vaccinators in Pakistan, and carried out threats by murdering them. Millions of Pakistani kids are out of reach of any polio vaccine, and will provide the virus with breeding grounds. "We can only hope," writes Williams, "that human nature will transform itself from problem to solution and find a way through the impasse." There may be reason to hope for such a transformation; the faulty human natures on display in this remarkable history did, after all, bring polio under some control. Perhaps eradication may come.
HASH(0x9ed3adf8) out of 5 stars Informative July 23 2014
By Marcia E. Kubick - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Interesting and informative, especially since I got polio as at 21 months old, in 1955.