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The conquest of poliomyelitis is, as journalist Tony Gould suggests, a useful prism to look through when exploring the social history of epidemics, the rise of the orchestrated biomedical research enterprise during the 20th century, and the singularly isolating experience of illness endured by a patient. With this in mind, Gould—himself a recovering "polio" (Gould's appellation for polio patients)— sets out to document both the "rise and fall of poliomyelitis" in the United States and Britain and the individual experiences of "polios" from the time of their initial infection with poliomyelitis to their recovery and subsequent lives.
Gould consequently organizes his book in a rather curious way. Part 1 is a breezy discussion of the history of poliomyelitis beginning with the 1916 epidemic in New York City and culminating in the Salk-Sabin controversies of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Part 2 is a recording of the experiences of seven
Markel H. A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors. JAMA. 1996;275(3):251. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530270091045