Sunday, July 5, 2015

by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs

Poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis) was the disease that every parent dreaded. There was no cure. In 1916, twenty-seven thousand people (mostly children under the age of five) were afflicted. It would take thirty-nine years before a vaccine would enter to prevent polio and end the suffering.
On April 12, 1955, the life of Jonas Salk changed forever. He was the man who created the vaccine and his announcement catapulted him into instant celebrity. It was never-ending. He was adored and adulated by the public. Salk was their hero.
The scientific community did not feel the same way. They snubbed him. In their eyes, he wasn't a real scientist, because no man of science puts himself out there to the public. They couldn't seem to get their heads around the fact that one man created something that could save lives.
Salk was not just involved with polio, but he also had a hand in a vaccine for influenza (he never received recognition) and did incredible work on AIDS.
Jonas Salk knew as a child that he would do something really noble. (His mother, after all, told him that he was destined for greatness.) This idealism would drive him even though his peers rejected him.
At 400 plus pages, this is one hefty book, but it's not plodding nor boring. Author Charlotte Jacobs is a great biographer and writes quite skillfully. There's plenty of details that in lesser hands could really bog down the information. She knows how to present the material in a pleasing way that is palatable to the layperson. As a physician herself and professor of medicine at Stanford University, Jacobs has the knowledge to portray Salk in all of his complexities showing who he really was.
Highly recommended.