Saul Benison

  • Tom Rivers

    Reflections on a Life in Medicine and Science

    Saul Benison

    In the last few months of his life, an eminent pioneer in the field of virology looks back over his eventful career and through the medium of oral history leaves behind him an authoritative account of the genesis of this important branch of science.

    The book is a record, edited only for reading convenience, of a series of tape-recorded interviews of the late Dr. Thomas M. Rivers of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. The interviewer, Saul Benison, is a historian of medicine and science who equipped himself for the task through extensive research in hitherto unused primary source materials. What emerges is an autobiography presented in Dr. Rivers' conversational style, reflecting his colorful personality, and spanning a long and eventful period of biomedical investigation.

    To date there has been no history of the development of virology in the United States. Dr. Rivers' memoir stands as a first interpretation of that history, and will supply the necessary raw material for other future accounts. The evolution of virology from its status as an adjunct to pathological and bacteriological investigation at the beginning of the twentieth century to its current position as an independent biomedical discipline is elucidated by Dr. Rivers' personal investigative experience with smallpox, psittacosis, encephalitis, louping-ill, Rift Valley fever, and other virus diseases. Interwoven with his narrative of the process of virus research are lively portraits and appraisals of scientific contemporaries, as well as candid inner histories of the scientific institutions and health agencies with which he was associated at various stages of his career-among them, the Johns Hopkins Medical School and Hospital, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and the National Foundation.

    Of marked interest is Dr. Rivers' explication of the development of research leading to the creation of both inactivated and live-virus polio vaccines. As chairman of the Virus Research Committee of the National Foundation's basic research programs. His account also stands as a case history of the contributions of a voluntary health agency to the administration and organization of scientific investigation in the last quarter century. Tom Rivers: Reflections on a Life in Medicine and Science offers the scientist, public health worker, sociologist, and historian of science a broad avenue of study. Quite apart from its substantive contributions to the recent history of medicine and science, this memoir will also help to establish historiographical standards for the new and burgeoning field of oral history.

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