The Autumn Ghost: How the Battle Against a Polio Epidemic Revolutionized Modern Medical Care


Product Details

$29.95  $27.85
Greystone Books
Publish Date
6.1 X 9.1 X 1.1 inches | 1.4 pounds

Earn by promoting books

Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.

Become an affiliate

About the Author

Hannah Wunsch is a critical care physician and researcher at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre. She is a professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Toronto and holds a Canada Research Chair. She lives in Toronto, Ontario and Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The Autumn Ghost is her first book.


"[A] superb account of the ghastly 1952 polio outbreak in Copenhagen...[A] story of heroism and medical advancement, beautifully told by Wunsch...[She] writes...'Most people have no idea what they owe to this remarkable doctor and his colleagues in Copenhagen.' They will soon enough--if The Autumn Ghost receives the attention it deserves."
--David Oshinsky, PhD, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, JAMA review

"Informative and clearly written...[The Autumn Ghost's] lessons should inform our attitudes toward medicine and societal norms going forward."
--Winnipeg Free Press

"An extraordinary story beautifully told...Hannah Wunsch recounts this gripping and emotional tale with clarity and compassion from every perspective. An instant classic of medical history, I loved it."
--Dr. Jim Down, consultant in critical care and author of Life Support and Life in the Balance

"A perfectly pitched medical mystery that will captivate you from page one."
--Wes Ely, MD, MPH, author of Every Deep-Drawn Breath, winner of the 2022 Christopher Award for Literature.

"A tale told with tremendous compassion and precision. [Wunsch] brings a critical chapter in medical history alive with style, wit, and an impeccable eye for detail."
--Siobhan Roberts, author of Genius at Play, The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway

"The Autumn Ghost, in equal parts harrowing and inspiring, brings us back in time into the great twentieth-century polio epidemic, showing how science painfully but amazingly swiftly went from deadly ignorance to mastering the disease. A must-read for anyone who wants to know how medical knowledge actually develops."
--Jordan Ellenberg, New York Times bestselling author of Shape and How Not to Be Wrong

"In medical science, the path to breakthroughs is paved with wrong turns and dead ends. Wunsch invites us along on one such medical odyssey as doctors and researchers scramble to understand the etiology and transmission of polio. The result is a deeply researched, utterly compelling story. . . at once heartbreaking and inspiring. Never has a book made me so aware of my breathing and so thankful for the ability to do so with ease."
--Olivia Campbell, New York Times bestselling author of Women in White Coats

"A fabulous, fascinating book--a sweeping history of a disease (polio), of two medical specialties (anesthesia and intensive care), and of several technologies (for ventilation and vaccine) through the lens of the 1952 Danish epidemic. Wunsch's meticulous research and graceful prose clearly explain the science behind the achievements and animate poignant stories of illness, disability, courage, imagination, and professional jealousy."
--Jacalyn Duffin, former president, American Association for the History of Medicine, Member of the Order of Canada, and author of History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction

"The Autumn Ghost delivers a riveting account of how polio was controlled, including the neglected story of how people survived, recovered and adapted to continued disabilities. This history has intruded into our present. In July 2022, New York State announced the diagnosis of polio acquired in the state, after several polio-free decades. This excellent book relays the dramatic story of how earlier generations learned to respond, still relevant today."
--Mary T Bassett, MD, FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health and former New York State Health Commissioner

"A beautiful and absorbing book about the history of polio. . . Wunsch tells the pressing story of the race to develop effective new technologies to ventilate patients amid a deathly global pandemic. It is also a beautiful story of accompaniment and of doing whatever it takes to keep thousands of patients alive--one person at a time."
--Ophelia Dahl, global health advocate and co-founder of Partners in Health