cover image POLIO AND ITS AFTERMATH: The Paralysis of Culture

POLIO AND ITS AFTERMATH: The Paralysis of Culture

Marc Shell, . . Harvard Univ., $35 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-674-01315-5

Shell, a professor of English and comp lit at Harvard, is interested in polio's cultural and aesthetic impact. In his passionate, detailed account of FDR's struggle with the disease and his crusade to bring relief to fellow sufferers, Shell refutes the current wisdom that FDR's disability was hidden from the public; in fact, he argues, it was on full view before the American people. Shell mines the so-called polio school of literature to illuminate a world of suffering and survival, and presents a lengthy analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 masterpiece, Rear Window, in which Shell sees a nuanced representation of the myriad issues raised by the disease. More controversially, in Shell's opinion the euphoria following the triumph of the polio vaccine left society, and the medical establishment in particular, unprepared to deal with later widespread virus outbreaks, such as HIV. He writes passionately of polio in the present tense: not only does it stalk victims across the globe, but millions who survived past epidemics still suffer. While perhaps his voice is too academic for a large audience, Shell's conclusions are startling and worthy of attention. 25 b&w photos. (Apr.)