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This is the first full account of Jonas Salk’s (1914-1995) life ever published. The author is Charlotte Jacobs, M.D. a professor of medicine (Emeritus) at Sanford University. Later in life she studied biography writing; this is her second biography she has published. I recently read “American Biography,” by Carl Rollyson so I paid closer attention to the details required to make a great biography while reading this book. I felt Jacobs followed the requirements when she researched and wrote the book on Salk. This is an excellent biography of Jonas Salk the man.
The book is well written, the writing style is engaging and informative. The writing did not appear to be heavily academic. Jacobs wrote a sympathetic narrative but did reveal the strengths and weakness of Jonas Salk from his extreme shyness to his idealism. Dr. Jacobs had unprecedented access to Salk’s sealed archives and she conducted hundreds of personal interviews. The research appeared to be meticulous. The author does a good job revealing how the scientific community treated Salk and also how Salk was affected by anti-Semitism early in his life. Salk attended New York University School of Medicine at it did not discriminate against Jews as all the Ivy League school did. Salk’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland.
On 12 April 2015 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the announcement that Jonas Salk’s vaccine could prevent poliomyelitis. I remember the excitement of polio being conquered; I also remember lining up at school to get the vaccine. Salk was a professor of medicine at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and later developed the Salk Institute. Salk did not patent the Polio vaccine and received no monies from it. Besides his work on polio Salk did pioneering work on multiple sclerosis and AIDS; he was also the co-developer of the first influenza vaccine with Thomas Francis M.D. The Salk vaccine is still used today along with the Sabin vaccine, together they are more effective against polio.
I was amazed to discover that Jonas Salk did not receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the vaccine for Polio. I remember my mother’s fear every summer and all the precautions she took to keep my sister and I safe from polio. The discovery was truly one of the greatness in the 20th century. Pam Ward did a good job narrating the biography. This is a fairly long book at about 20 hours. I am looking forward to reading more books by Charlotte Jacobs.
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