Vaccination has greatly diminished death, illness and suffering in the world. But no other medical technology has been so dogged with controversy. The book chronicles the development of the key lifesaving vaccines since the 18th century. It tells the stories of great scientists and their discoveries, of the protests and pain along the stumbling path of progress. This is the first book to tell the whole story of vaccination for a general audience. In light of controversies about flu vaccine and autism, it will be of particular interest to parents, pediatricians, public health workers and anyone fascinated by medical history. Read More>>

Also Available: Table of Contents and Index

Arthur Allen is a Washington DC-based journalist who has written on vaccine issues in The New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, The New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, Salon and Slate.


Book tour tales

I have done some stupid things in my life, but I managed to avoid one while in Portland last week on my book tour. I had scheduled a one-on-one basketball game against J.B. Handley, a particularly noxious mercury militiaman. I had impulsively agreed to the match a week earlier, but my wife's better judgement and my own vestigial adulthood eventually kicked in, and I bailed at the last minute...

Handley and I have shared insults by email periodically over the past several months. He has a facile take on the question of possible harm from vaccines: he blames vaccine thimerosal for "epidemics" of autism, diabetes, ADHD and a host of other human ills. This kind of paranoiac conspiracy theorizing is harmless when it's being shouted at passing motorists by a guy on a corner with a cardboard sign, but Handley is a wealthy investment banker and has paid for several full=page spreads in the NYTimes, USAToday and other publications to publicize his whacky viewpoint. An awful lot of American parents are afraid to vaccinate their children, convinced they'll become autistic, and I blame people like Handley for at least some of this unreasonable fear.

My loathing for Handley has triggered a bad case of temper, and I've been quite crude in my email exchanges with him--not an intelligent way to act. A colleague suggested to me that the basketball match had homoerotic overtones, although he said the metaphor worked better with football -- the green field symbolizing fertility, the white lines the approaching winter, the cheerleaders.. whatever. It was all a bit Icky.

Handley has informed me that he has no intention of reading my book--the worst kind of insult. But he'd agreed to buy 10 copies and discuss it in a reading group if I won the game.

Oh well. Instead I went over to the AP office and talked with my old pal Joe Frazier, with whom I used to chase around after guerrillas and death squads and Nicaraguan rum, back in El Salvador a few decades ago.

Then I had a beer. No hoop dreams for me.

The strange thing is, Handley is also responsible for the only paycheck I have earned thus far on my tour. Although I frequently am derided by anti-vaccine activists as a "Big Pharma shill," the only dough I've actually gotten, besides the rather paltry advance that WW Norton paid me, was a $1,000 honorarium from the sponsors of my Jan. 13 debate with David Kirby in San Diego. It turns out that Handley's Generation Rescue organization put up most of the money for that event; in a fit of pique he recently claimed that the $1,000 check came straight out of his bank account. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for my big payout from Big Pharma. 

As a journalist, the modest tour I'm doing has given me a picture of the bleeding state of the American news media. From a friend who interviewed me for a Boston Globe article, I learned that the Globe is closing all its foreign bureaus. My hosts at Voice of American informed me that the agency is about to shut down its English-language service. I have been interviewed at Clear Channel stations that are too cheap to offer you a cup of coffee or a waiting room to prepare for an interview, as they squeeze out low-(intellectual)wattage radio product for the masses.

I've met a lot of really nice people, too--in unexpected places (including a couple of Clear Channel stations). I spent Friday in Portland, Ore., doing interviews with three radio stations and a reading at Powells, a wonderful, immense bookstore and the anchor of the up-and-coming Pearl District. The trip gave me the opportunity to catch up with old friends and to tangle with Left Coast vaccine weirdness. Paul O'Brien, a software-cum-I Ching guy who just sold his Website for $20 million (!) interviewed me very respectfully and intelligently for his "Pathways" program on KBOO, a fabulous Portland alternative station that is mostly staffed by volunteers and has some truly inspired musical programs. Ellen Kimball Pollens, a veteran broadcaster and grandmother, spoke with me about vaccines for half on hour for her Oregon Public Radio show, "Golden Hours."

Returning to DC yesterday, I felt a bit like Dorothy when she awoke from her blow to the head during the twister, with all those Kansas boys with Bronx accents gathered around her bed. Y'know -- there are good folks and bad all over the place, but it's nice to be home....


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Jackie Treehorn

Oh. My. God.

No doubt about the homoerotic overtones - I'm sure he had a lot of picking and charging planned.

At least he didn't ask you to mudwrestle for it.

I'm surprised he didn't ask for a game of Horse or Pig.


Ah Brad....a man of many words - all of them really, really dumb. His indeed is the sort of mentality who would think that by winning or losing a game he would've proved something.

As for the homoeroticism - no doubt - he was very upset at me 'challenging his manhood' once. Very weird guy. But as you say, a weird guy with enough money to be a danger to people.

Ellen Kimball

Hi Arthur,

Thanks for mentioning me and my audio program in your blog. I really enjoyed speaking with you on 2/23. I'll be honored to take your book with me to Hawaii next week to share with my son-in-law, a doctor at Oregon Health Sciences University.

In peace,

Ellen Kimball at OPB

Jim Laidler

It was a rare treat to have you visit us in rainy Portland - during what is often the rainiest month (or, at least, it often seems that way). I think that you were wise to forgo the basketball game with JB - nothing positive was going to come from that.

I was a little disappointed that JB didn't come to your talk - it would have been interesting to hear what he had to say. But, in a world with so many disappointments, I'll just have to struggle through this one as well.

I've noticed a bit of a sea change in the autism-mercury movement, probably precipitated by the (to them) disappointing numbers out of the California DDS and the USDE. I've noticed that they are moving away from vaccines (very quietly) and talking more about other sources of mercury. It's as though they've forgotten that they still haven't demonstrated that mercury causes autism. Or, perhaps they're hoping that people will forget to ask that question.

Anyway, it was great to see you and I wish you luck (and stamina) on the rest of your book tour.

Jim Laidler
Portland, Oregon


Creeeepy. I would no more want to come face-to-face with Handley than with any other sociopath.

What was he thinking? That if he won, it would prove he has been right about vaccines all along? It sounds stupid, but I wouldn't put it past him.


I'm sure if Handley lost he would've tried to sue you for something. He likes to do that, I hear. Either that or take out a full-page ad in USA Today proclaiming his victory over the forces of evil.

JB Handley

What kind of guy brags about issuing a challenge and then bailing on the challenge?

Go figure.

I looked up your book: Sales Rank: #9,631 in Books

I dodn't know they made that many books. I think Jim Laidler may have bought the only copy.

Disrespectfully yours,

JB Handley


How do you feel about Fombonne's study out of Canada being a farce? How hilarious.

Too bad about the pathetic showing on your book sales.


In comparison to the web site rankings of GenerationRescue.Org and PutChildrenFirst.Org, Arthur's book is a New York Times best seller. I wonder if JB has thought about driving traffic to his site using Google AdWords?

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