Jonas Salk: Reluctant Hero, Visionary, and Ladies Man


I love my Kindle for a lot of reasons. One is that when I find a nearly 600 page biography that I don’t want to put down, it doesn’t take any heavy lifting to carry it with me. Jonas Salk by Charlotte Jacobs is a brilliant and thought provoking biography.

All heroes pay a price for heroism. Jonas Salk, beloved son of a determined mother, grew up in a New York tenement. He conquered a virus that not only attacked tenement dwellers but aristocrats like FDR. Americans were terrified of deadly, paralyzing, and unpredictable polio. They wanted a hero. They foisted the mantle of hero on Jonas Salk. For the public’s adulation, that he never sought, Jonas Salk paid the price of jealousy within factions of the science community.

Jonas Salk never won a Noble prize. He was never admitted to The National Academy of Scientists. Yet he always took the high road even when others sniped at him. After introducing the inactive virus vaccine that took the world on the road to eradicating polio, he focused on immunology and Aids.

He was a visionary who lent his name to the creation of The Salk Institute in La Jolla when it became evident that without Salk’s name, funding an institute would be impossible. The Salk Institute attracted Nobel Prize winning scientists. Sadly, certain scientists felt borderline disdain for the gentleman who made the Institute possible and wanted his laboratory space.

The Salk Institute’s design is well-displayed in My Architect, a documentary about its architect, Louis Kahn.

In My Architect, Jack MacAllister, the architect whom Louis Kahn hired for The Salk Institute appears with a vitality you’ll remember. And Jack MacAllister appears again in Jonas Salk’s biography as one of the few people who seem to wish Dr. Salk well when he marries his second wife, French artist Francois Gilot, famously known as a mistress of Picasso.
The biography also reveals that once Jonas Salk lost his laboratory at The Salk Institute, he spent some of his happiest days with very attractive and smart twenty-something women. It was a life well-lived. I highly recommend Jonas Salk by Charlotte Jacobs for the story of a complex and interesting man who left the world better than he found it. Also, don’t miss My Architect if you have an opportunity to see it.

You can see the Kindle edition of Jonas Salk at Amazon by clicking on the link below:
Jonas Salk: A Life

You can see My Architect at Amazon by clicking on the link below:
My Architect: A Son’s Journey

Disclosure: I received a copy of Jonas Salk from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

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