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On Immunity: An Inoculation

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  7,635 ratings  ·  1,058 reviews
Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear--fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child's air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.

In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding o
Hardcover, 205 pages
Published September 30th 2014 by Graywolf Press
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Michelle Most people who commit crimes eat bread. This is astounding! How can we allow this to go on? I know of someone who ate bread, and then he MURDERED…moreMost people who commit crimes eat bread. This is astounding! How can we allow this to go on? I know of someone who ate bread, and then he MURDERED someone!!!!!! Ban bread! How can we allow this to go on?(less)

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Claire Humphrey
Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2014
Just lovely: so thoughtful and empathetic and intellectually wide-ranging. I've often wondered why people--privileged, educated people, no less--choose not to vaccinate their children, disregarding scientific evidence and social responsibility. I've especially wondered why this position seems so unassailable, why even people I consider friends are so closed to discussion on this one topic although they are open-minded about so much else.

Eula Biss bridges the gap, exposes the power of
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, favorites
A meditation on American culture's conception of illness, On Immunity takes on the misinformation and paranoia surrounding vaccination. In precise and moving prose, Eula Biss tracks the global history of immunization, critiques the act of describing public and private health through militaristic metaphors, reflects on her experience of motherhood, considers the ways in which cultural cornerstones such as Dracula represent disease, and deconstructs common arguments against vaccination. The short book unfolds in ...more
Oct 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: health
This book isn't what I thought. I expected a historical record of the development of vaccines as well as a debate about whether or not parents should vaccinate their children and I got that -- for the first few chapters. Then Biss launched into a serious of personal essays about the birth of her son, taking him for shots and obsessing about the transfusion she had to get following labor. Honestly, the book should have been called "Transfusion" because she never shut up about it. You'd think no o ...more
Oct 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Those of us who identify as what is called "pro-vax"--parents who not only vaccinate their children, but who feel passionately about it--are not exactly shrinking violets. Frankly, we can't afford to be--although the vast majority of parents vaccinate their children, we do it as a matter of course for the most part, and do not feel a driving need to speak up about having done so, any more than we brag about taking our kids to the dentist. However, this silence has allowed a vocal and dangerous m ...more
Ayelet Waldman
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is remarkable. Read it.
Iris P
On Immunity: An Inoculation
On Immunity An Inoculation by Eula Biss

Eula Biss, the author of "On Immunization: An Inoculation" is the daughter of a poet and a doctor. She is herself a poet and a renowned essayist, this creates a seemingly absurd but interesting background that I think allows her to bring a unique perspective to an issue that could be otherwise tedious and dull.

Before reading this book,
Robert Felton
Oct 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
There was a lot of very informative and insightful material in On Immunity. I liked the section focused on perceptions of risk, where the belief of the validity of a particular risk by many people in society is often at odds with quantifiable facts. I also enjoyed the metaphorical comparisons that Eula Biss makes in our language and our exaggerated scientific studies, both of which contribute to our general fear of vaccinations. But, I felt the book didn't quite work for me. My biggest problem i ...more
Glenn Sumi
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Eula Biss isn’t a scientist; she’s an award-winning non-fiction writer and a mother. But based on On Immunity: An Inoculation, she’s clearly done copious amounts of research. The book is a personal, impressionistic, fascinating look at the history of immunity, from those 18th century English milkmaids with cowpox who miraculously found themselves immune to smallpox to the crazy (and dangerous) theories of celebrities like Jenny McCarthy.

Biss has a poet’s ear, and recognizes all the connotations
When she first became a mother, professor and essayist Eula Biss took the opportunity to reconsider inoculation. She’d never given it much thought before, but in an American culture of paranoia about everything from bird flu to food additives, it was impossible not to ask what risks she was exposing her son to, and whether they were worth it. In a wide-ranging cultural history reminiscent of Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, she delves into the facts, myths and metaphors surrounding immunization. Thi ...more
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Wow, not what I expected. I agree with Rebecca's review below. I was wanting a more factual/historical read, but instead this book was ALL OVER THE PLACE. The chapters weren't arranged chronologically, or in any logical way whatsoever. You start a new chapter where she talks about when her son was born, but in the previous chapter he was 4 years old. She talks way too much about vaccinating her son, her father being a doctor, and a blood transfusion she once received. The title should be more li ...more
Tanja Berg
Rating 6* out of 5. I have never read anything like this in my life. I am not talking about the subject in itself, because actually none of the facts presented here were new to me. I have read about them before. What is different is how Eula Biss pieces together fact and mythology (Greek and vampirical) together with her own experiences as a first time mother to make a case for vaccination. She does this so gently, so expertly, that surely not even the anti-vaccination faction could take offense ...more
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is a thoughtful discussion of illness and immunity that pays particular attention to the controversies surrounding vaccines. And there is no doubt the author invested a great deal of research and thinking in this. Be warned, however, that it is less straightforward narrative than a bricolage of her own memories, readings and musings, which can be, at times, difficult. For example, early in the book, Biss moves from Kierkegaard, to the Doppler effect, to O negative blood and then to the idea ...more
Dec 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Anyone looking to regret reading a book.
Recommended to Jeremiah by: Entertainment Weekly (I should have known better)
Thank you to Eula Biss for pushing me to return to goodreads. I felt as though this was the only place I could properly voice my disappointment in this book. As focused as a broken telescope I have to wonder with what scandalous info she blackmailed her editor. Her use of metaphors are like a clean-up hitter shooting a three point shot during the superbowl and coming up short only to get an icing call on the final lap. ...or should I say it is like a vampire quoting Sontag but only to support Ki ...more
Book Riot Community
Despite the fact that this book has been deemed one of the best non-fiction books of 2014, it completely took me by surprise. By combining historical information and personal essays, Biss takes on the hot button topic of vaccinations and brings it to a level that can appeal to anyone. Plus she is able to take the idea of vampires and our cultural history with those creatures and integrate them into our current cultural fear of vaccinations. Without shaming people who may be wary of vaccines and ...more
Jen Hirt
Aug 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I can't reveal much about this brilliant personal critique of America's culture of doubt surrounding vaccines, because I'm getting paid (for once) to write about it elsewhere (the next edition of the American Writers reference series, not due out until 2016). But I will echo what others are saying -- Biss has inherited the critical inquiry skills of Susan Sontag and Joan Didion and merged them with the research focus of Rebecca Solnit. The whole short book (164 pages, followed by 40 pages of end ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars -- this was a very emotional read for me, one that I almost resented. But ultimately, I could not deny the beauty of the writing or the thoughtfulness of Biss' consideration of ourselves as bodies interconnected to one another in so many different ways.
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
“Immunity is a shared space – a garden we tend together.”

Eula Biss has written a fine argument and defense for the importance of vaccination in our society.

When I was in high school, we had a contest between other school debate teams called The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, named for the famous candidates in the 1858 Senate race in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Even though Lincoln didn’t win the debate in 1858, his opinions won the popular vote, and the debates helped la
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, grownup
I love Eula Biss. Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays is soooo important to me and so stylistically impressive. This is different--one structured narrative rather than an essay collection, but she does trace different topics related to the history of vaccinations and anti-vaccinations.

Ugh she's just so SMART and so good at making connections between things. And I love that she writes openly from her perspective as a new mother, a privileged mother, who can understand the panic that anti-vaccina
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was obsessed with what I consumed. I didn't just give up wine; I gave up chewing gum. I feared that my cups of early pregnancy green tea could cause spinal bifida; I meticulously removed the feta cheese from a dining hall sandwich, knowing that there was virtually no chance that institutional dairy was unpasteurized. In "On Immunity," Eula Biss explores our desire to spare our children the toxicity and mortality that is their lot, and she is unsparing in h ...more
Sep 22, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
No, thank you. I didn't realise that by reading this I would have to engage with someone who is sceptical of vaccinations and chooses to selectively vaccinate their own a child. As someone who works in public health, I can't deal with this kind of nonsense even if it's packaged as a Fitzcarraldo edition.

Vaccinating is not a debate and I don't want science and public health policy explained to me by a lay person who has done a bit of research on the internet. This is not, in any way, like Sontag
The praise this book is getting is well deserved.
Aug 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I remain immune to the hype.

There's some brilliant writing in here awaintg an editor. Is it a commentary on the current immunity scare? A history of inoculation? A journey into the subtle class boundaries of North America? Who knows. It's all of those things, but in no particular order and with no obvious object. Now, I know that post-modern post-structuralist writing values the amorphous subjective (and perhaps the also the even more elusive intersubjective) but readers still deserv
Beth Knight
Apr 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this as part of my Book Riot Read Harder challenge (it fulfills the "a-book-published-by-an-indie-press" requirement). I didn't think I'd like it as much as I did. I'm much more "into" fiction and so I was worried this book was going to be too dry. It wasn't. It was filled with all kinds of stats and facts, of course, but there was also a lot of personal details about the author's life and young son so that made it more readable and identifiable. I'd recommend the book to everyone but I t ...more
Julie Ehlers
This book was so, so interesting and important. I can't stop thinking about it. I will go so far as to say that everyone should read it. I almost docked a star because the way the endnotes are set up was really annoying, but there's just too much good stuff here not to give it the 5-star deluxe treatment.
Karen Witzler
Dec 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Belletristic approach to the current vaccine debate. Eula Biss weaves history, philosophy of science, current events, and personal memoir into this excellent piece on the cultural implications of immunology and disease. Susan Sontag, Donna Haraway, and Bram Stoker are consulted along with contemporary scientists and public health advocates. Beautiful writing, indeed. Highly recommended.
This isn't a science book. It's not a book about healthcare. It's not even a book about vaccination. Instead, On Immunity is a confusing collection of essays with no cohesive theme. Biss cycles between motherhood and literary analysis and never brings it all together.

With the measles outbreak splashed across every newspaper, I picked up a copy of On Immunity, aiming to educate myself on vaccination, and expecting a primer on vaccines and vaccine culture. I was disappointed to discover that this book
Di Richardson
Oct 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fairly interesting look into the facts and myths surrounding vaccines. this has been a very hot topic in CA, and I was interested in gaining a better understanding of some of the arguments against. I am pro vaccine, always have been, and always will be. if you are reading this and you are an anti vaxxer, I am not interested in having any sort of debate with you. We will never agree. while I have to admit that I was a little bored on occasion, for the most part I thought the author did ...more
"If we imagine the action of a vaccine not just in terms of how it affects a single body, but also in terms of how it affects the collective body of a community, it is fair to think of vaccination as a kind of banking of immunity. Contributions to this bank are donations to those who cannot or will not be protected by their own immunity."
Julie G
Sep 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely superb. Biss's essays cover a range of social, cultural, scientific, and historical effects and implications surrounding the decision to immunize. She begins with the struggle she faced as a new mother hearing widely varying ideas of whether or not immunization is healthy and, from there, delves into the history of inoculation, the reasons people have feared the idea of vaccines throughout history and culture, and the current controversies surrounding the topic. Each essa
An absolute must-read no matter what side of the vaccination fence you are sitting on. If I could have highlighted every single word I would have. I am very very pro-vaccination, but I also do not have children, and so have never been confronted with the rational and irrational fears that accompany motherhood. I have never had anyone dependent upon every decision I made, and so just cannot understand what it is like to be so completely overwhelmed with data, decisions, troubles, fears, and love. ...more
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Eula Biss holds a BA in nonfiction writing from Hampshire College and an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She is currently an Artist in Residence at Northwestern University, where she teaches nonfiction writing, and she is a founding editor of Essay Press, a new press dedicated to innovative nonfiction. Her essays have recently appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction and the Touchston ...more
“Wealthier countries have the luxury of entertaining fears the rest of the world cannot afford.” 15 likes
“And when comfort is what we want, one of the most powerful tonics alternative medicine offers is the word 'natural.' This word implies a medicine untroubled by human limitations, contrived wholly by nature or God or perhaps intelligent design. What 'natural' has come to mean to us in the context of medicine is 'pure' and 'safe' and 'benign'. But the use of 'natural' as a synonym for 'good' is almost certainly a product of our profound alienation from the natural world.” 13 likes
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