Book Review: The Woman with the Cure by Lynn Cullen

Posted February 22, 2023 by WendyW in Book Review, bookblogger / 45 Comments

The Woman with the Cure
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

by Lynn Cullen
Publication Date February 21, 2023
Published by Penguin
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Genres: Fiction / Biographical, Fiction / Historical / General, Fiction / Medical
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2023

***I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***

"Huge applause... women have always been in science—despite those who would pretend otherwise.” --Bonnie Garmus, New York Times bestselling author of Lessons in Chemistry

She gave up everything — and changed the world.

A riveting novel based on the true story of the woman who stopped a pandemic, from the bestselling author of Mrs. Poe.
In 1940s and ’50s America, polio is as dreaded as the atomic bomb. No one’s life is untouched by this disease that kills or paralyzes its victims, particularly children. Outbreaks of the virus across the country regularly put American cities in lockdown. Some of the world’s best minds are engaged in the race to find a vaccine. The man who succeeds will be a god.
But Dorothy Horstmann is not focused on beating her colleagues to the vaccine. She just wants the world to have a cure. Applying the same determination that lifted her from a humble background as the daughter of immigrants, to becoming a doctor –often the only woman in the room--she hunts down the monster where it lurks: in the blood.
This discovery of hers, and an error by a competitor, catapults her closest colleague to a lead in the race. When his chance to win comes on a worldwide scale, she is asked to sink or validate his vaccine—and to decide what is forgivable, and how much should be sacrificed, in pursuit of the cure.

The Woman with the Cure by Lynn Cullen is a historical fiction novel that follows the race for the cure for Polio.  It highlights the unknown work of the women who worked towards the cure but did not get credit for any of their work.  

Story Recap:

In the 1940s and 1950s, the world is in fear of Polio, a dreaded disease that struck down mostly children.  The cause is unknown, and so is the cure.  

Dorothy Horstmann started researching polio as a young doctor.  One of the rare women doctors of her time, she was devastated to see so many young children suffering so much from this horrible disease.  Dorothy is determined to do what she can to find a cure.  Her male colleagues are more concerned with “being the first” to find the cure, but Dorothy just wants to find a way to destroy the disease.  

My Thoughts: 

I was a bit worried that this book would have a lot of science and medical terms in it, and it does, but the author does a wonderful job of simplifying the science, which allowed me to follow the story without having to look up terms and words all the time.  Her writing is surprisingly easy to read and very straightforward, even with all the scientific jargon. 

The first part of the book covers the horrors of polio, making the reader aware of the disease and its devastating effects on children and parents everywhere.  This part was difficult to read at times, but necessary to demonstrate the horrific way the disease destroyed families everywhere.  Then the search for the cure takes over and that part of the book was fascinating.  

The men were in a race to see who could discover the cure first, and Dorothy was in a race to save the children.  Dorothy was such a fascinating character and so devoted to finding the cure. 


I highly recommend The Woman With the Cure to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.  I received a complimentary copy of this book.  The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

About Lynn Cullen

Lynn Cullen is the bestselling author of historical novels The Sisters of Summit Avenue, Twain’s End, Mrs. Poe, Reign of Madness, and I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter. To read about Lynn’s introduction to writing historical fiction, click here.

Her novel, Mrs. Poe, was named a Book of the Week by People Magazine, a Target Book Club Pick, an NPR 2013 Great Read, an Indie Next List selection. It was also a book of the month at Costco, an Oprah Book of the Week, and Atlanta magazine named it one of the Best Books of 2013.

Twain’s End was a People Magazine Book of the Week, a Townsend Prize finalist, an Indie Next selection, and named a Book All Georgians Should Read by the Georgia Center for the Book. Lynn’s novels have been translated into seventeen languages and she has appeared on PBS’s American Masters.

Lynn grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the fifth girl in a family of seven children. She learned to love history combined with traveling while visiting historic sites across the U.S. on annual family camping trips. She attended Indiana University in Bloomington and Fort Wayne, and took writing classes with Tom McHaney at Georgia State.

She wrote children’s books as her three daughters were growing up, while working in a pediatric office, and later, on the editorial staff of a psychoanalytic journal at Emory University. While her camping expeditions across the States have become fact-finding missions across Europe, she still loves digging into the past. However, she does not miss sleeping in musty sleeping bags. Or eating canned fruit cocktail.

She now lives in Atlanta with her husband, their dog, and two unscrupulous cats.

Book Challenges:

The Woman With the Cure counts towards my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2023

Have you read The Woman With the Cure?

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2023

45 responses to “Book Review: The Woman with the Cure by Lynn Cullen

  1. Yay! I’m glad you liked this one. I’m on a long library waitlist for it and can’t wait to read it. We are so lucky to have polio vaccines these days. What a terrible illness that is.

  2. Oh this sounds fascinating! I remember listening to my grandmothers talk about everything closing down when polio cases would start showing up in town.

  3. I didn’t realize polio was rampant not that long ago! For some reason I had it in my head it was early 1900s. How scary! This does sound interesting. Great review, Wendy!

  4. I know so little about this part of medical history. I’m glad it turned out that the med terms were understandable and the story pulled you in.

  5. This sounds like an interesting read. I can imagine it was hard to read at times given the subject matter. I enjoy good historical fiction, great review!

  6. I remember getting the oral polio vaccine when it came out. I also remember all the people who had to live in the iron lungs or had crippled legs as a result of polio. This sounds like a good book.

  7. Joanna @ TheGeekishBrunette

    Glad you enjoyed this one! I don’t know much about the polio outbreak so i am sure it would be very educational for me!

  8. I love this subject matter as it’s one that’s close to my heart. If you’re looking for another book set against polio told from a nurse’s perspective I’d recommend Diane Chamberlain’s The Stolen Marriage which was a 5 star read for me. Great review Wendy!