Author: Lynn Cullen
Publisher: Berkley Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Kindle ARC
No. of Pages: 400
Date of Publication: February 21, 2023
My Rating: 5 Stars
In 1940s and 50s America, an invisible killer is on the loose: polio.No one’s life is untouched by this disease that kills or paralyzes its victims, particularly children. The man who can find a cure for this scourge will be seen as a god.
Over six feet tall, and one of the strongest, female protagonist I have read in a long time. In fact, if not fighting for the vaccine for the polio virus, Dorothy Horstmann had to fight against people who do not take what she did seriously. All they see is her height, her past, and the fact that she is a woman, often the only woman in the room.
But Dorothy puts her life, her fears, her desires, all behind her with a single goal in mind. Not only does she want to find the vaccine to stop the polio virus, but she wants to beat her colleagues, most notably, all whom are male. There is one scene in this book that made me appreciate how hard Dorothy had to fight. There was a meeting of the minds when they were getting close to a vaccine and one of the doctors turned to her and said “Dorothy, is there coffee”? How demeaning!
Dorothy was much more than a doctor, however, she was a brilliant scientist, one who really sensed where polio was hiding in the human body. Will she be the first one to create the vaccine or will she have to support one of her male counterparts? Then it becomes a question of does it really matter who is first, as long as countless children stop dying or suffering unspeakable injuries to their little bodies?
Considering where we are in the stream of time with Covid not being completely wiped off of the map, especially with people still suffering with different types of Covid, including Long Covid, reading a book about stopping a pandemic took my breath away more than once.
It should come to no surprise that there were two very noticeable names in this book, those of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Anyone like me who remembers science from school will remember those names. It was very interesting to see their roles in this book alongside Dorothy in her fight for what she knew would only be a vaccine and not a cure. Time after time, history places women in the background, making them rather invisible when they are meeting the same achievements as their male coworkers, and that was truly the case with Dorothy Horstmann.
I love that Lynn Cullen showed her tremendous research into the life of the real-life epidemiologist and pediatrician who fought for the discovery of the vaccine. She was a stellar historical figure whom this author has given great attention to in this amazing book. I would like to offer this link that shows how extensive Ms. Cullen’s research was for this book, Research I’d Rather Not Have Done…
While this may be a fictional story, the fact that it is based on a real life historical figure, and the amazing work she did, it goes a long way to give credit to successful women like Dorothy Horstmann. While Covid has taken the lives of millions, the numbers do not match with polio. However, at the time when polio was most rampant, during the 1940s and 1950s when its peak hit hard, and hit suddenly, the devastating effect on the lives of children and their parents made discovering a vaccine incredibly necessary. How can we not be reminded of the fight to find effective vaccines for Covid today?
This amazing book has had a powerful impact on me, and makes me want to look up more women in history, whether medical, space, aviation, or other vocations, where they get pushed behind the accolades of men. Kudos to Lynn Cullen for placing this magnificent book in the hands of its readers.