Cover: Polio and Its Aftermath: The Paralysis of Culture, from Harvard University PressCover: Polio and Its Aftermath in HARDCOVER

Polio and Its Aftermath

The Paralysis of Culture

Add to Cart

Product Details


$37.00 • £29.95 • €33.50

ISBN 9780674013155

Publication Date: 06/15/2005


336 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

25 halftones


Marc Shell’s Polio and Its Aftermath is something of a hybrid. It is part memoir, part literary, film, and cultural criticism, part cultural history, and part meditation on the meaning of disease, especially the cultural meaning of polio. There is nothing quite like this book in the extant literature on polio. Nothing with the sweep and range of Shell’s book has been previously published.—Daniel J. Wilson, author of Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors

Polio and Its Aftermath is distinctly original. There is nothing like it in the current literature. Shell’s writing is at times witty and irreverent, but always outstanding. He uses some fabulous literary techniques that capture the reader’s interest and imagination. Polio and Its Aftermath is truly outstanding.—Julie K. Silver, author of Post-Polio Syndrome: A Guide for Polio Survivors and Their Families

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...Shell’s conclusions are startling and worthy of attention.Publishers Weekly

Marc Shell...makes some important points, including that polio has not been ’conquered,’ if only because millions of its victims are still alive, often suffering from post-polio syndrome.—Andrew Jack, Financial Times

Marc Shell analyzes what he calls the vast field of "polio literature," namely published and unpublished works of poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, children’s and adult literature that addresses polio either overtly or implicitly...Interspersed with his discussion of these cultural artifacts and technical developments is his personal account of contracting polio in Canada at the age of six. Shell moves easily between his own painful recollections and a dazzling array of texts...This book will be useful to anyone interested in the history and psychology of epidemics, in childhood in the first half of the twentieth century, and/or in disability studies. —Elise Lamire, American Historical Review

This book will be useful to anyone interested in the history and psychology of epidemics, in childhood in the first half of the twentieth century, and/or in disability studies.—Elise Lemire, American Historical Review

From Our Blog


Who We Might Have Been, and Who We Will Become

Who among us hasn’t considered what our lives would be like if we had taken alternate paths, made different decisions? Storytellers of every stripe write of the lives we didn’t have, says Andrew H. Miller, author of On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives. As we live through a worldwide pandemic, the ideas of what might have been are even more appealing. Much like the adolescents on the verge of adulthood in Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, Miller tells us, we wait to see what comes next.