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In this expanded edition of a widely praised book, now available for the first time in North America, the renowned journalist Patrick Cockburn looks at his experience of contracting polio as a child in the context of a new pandemic, that of COVID-19. The parallels between what happened 65 years ago and today's crisis are both striking and salutary. Cockburn was just six when he woke up one day in the summer of 1956 with a headache and a sore throat.

His parents, Claud and Patricia, had recently returned to Ireland, to their house in East Cork, careless of the fact that polio had broken out in Cork City. Patrick caught the disease and was taken to the fever hospital. The virus attacks the nerves of the brain and the spinal cord, leading to paralysis of the muscles.

Patrick could no longer walk. The Broken Boy is at once a memoir of Patrick Cockburn's own experience of polio, a portrait of his parents, both prominent radicals, and the story of the Cork epidemic, the last great polio epidemic in the world.

The Broken Boy


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