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“Finally, Hilleman took a step that seems unbelievable in the bureaucratically hardened, litigious society of today. He bypassed the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s (HEW) Division of Biologic Standards and contacted the heads of the six U.S. vaccine manufacturers directly. His message was simple. “Don’t kill your roosters.” As a farm boy growing up in Montana, Hilleman had learned that farmers sell their roosters for stewing pots at the end of the spring hatching season. Because of his years working with the influenza virus, he knew that vaccine manufacturers produce their vaccine in fertilized chicken eggs. To produce vaccine on the scale Hilleman was envisioning would require a massive amount of fertilized chicken eggs. Manufacturers would need every rooster they could get. Recognizing that time was of the essence, Hilleman followed up his phone calls by shipping samples of this new strain to each of the six manufacturers for vaccine production on 22 May 1957. Initially dubbed “Far East influenza,” the virus was later named the Asian Flu.”
1. Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, quite a good book.
2. Louis Galambos with Jane Eliot Sewell, Networks of Innovation: Vaccine Development at Merck, Sharp and Dohme, and Mulford, 1895-1995. Imagine a book with both Vannevar Bush and Maurice Hilleman as leading and indeed intersecting characters. How is this for a sentence?: “Hilleman had spent his boyhood on a farm on which the German-American tradition was to “work like hell and live by the tenets of Martin Luther.””
3. John Duffy, The Sanitarians: A History of American Public Health. A little boring, and not conceptual enough, but is anything on this topic entirely boring at the current moment in time? Nonetheless this is a very useful overview and survey of public health issues in American history, and so I do not hesitate to recommend it.
4. Robert P. Saldin and Steven M. Teles, Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites. Remarkably fair-minded and substantive, here is my blurb: “”Who are the Never Trumpers, what do they want, and what are their stories? Robert P. Saldin and Steven Teles have produced the go-to work on a movement that will likely prove of enduring influence in American politics.” Here is a relevant Atlantic article by Saldin and Teles. Recommended.
5. Anne Enright, Actress: A Novel. A subtle Irish story of a woman telling the tale of her now-departed famous, charismatic mother and her career in the theater. Unpeels like an onion as you read it, and reveals successively deeper layers of the story, it would make my “favorite fiction of the year” list pretty much any year. But please note it has not have the “upfront attention-grabbing style” that many of us have been trained to enjoy.
Kate Murphy, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters. How to be a better listener — get the audiobook!
Kevin Peter Hand, Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space. A remarkably under-written and under-booked topic, I am delighted to see this book in particular.
Kate Elizabeth Russell, My Dark Vanessa: a novel, about a high school teacher abusing one of his students, effective if you are wishing to read a story with this plot line.
Alev Scott and Andronike Makres, Power & the People: Five Lessons from the Birthplace of Democracy. Due out in September, a useful look at how politics worked in ancient Athens.
Jennifer A. Delton, The Industrialists: How the National Association of Manufacturers Shaped American Capitalism. Manufacturing is one of the topics du jour, and this book gives good background on one particular angle of that story.
As for older books, I very much liked Paul A. Offitt, Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases, a biography of Maurice Hilleman. How soon we forget that in the early 1960s — when I was born — the measles virus was killing about eight million children a year. Even in 2018 it was 140,000 deaths a year. Also excellent is Kendall Hoyt, Long Shot: Vaccines for National Defense, a paradigmatic example of Progress Studies.
In 1957, when flu swept through Hong Kong, Mr [Maurice] Hilleman identified the virus as a new form to which people had no natural immunity and passed on his findings to vaccine-makers. When the virus reached the United States a few months later 40m doses of vaccine were ready to limit its damage.
Here is more from The Economist, circa 2005, via Brian LaRocca. How many of you have heard of Maurice Hilleman? He has other accomplishments, and according to Wikipedia “He is credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century.” I say he is underrated!