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