Good Minds Suggest—Eula Biss's Favorite Books About Vaccination

Posted by Goodreads on November 5, 2014
Eula Biss

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Eula Biss is the award-winning author of three books, including her latest, On Immunity: An Inoculation, a fascinating critique of the myths, fears, and hyperbole surrounding vaccination. The essayist was spurred to write the book after becoming a new mother and finding herself mired in the myriad "how can I protect my child from the world?" anxieties, both rational and extreme, that can envelop new parents. Her provocative and timely study, part essay collection, part literary memoir, delves deeply into the reasons vaccines elicit such terror and doubt, approaching her subject from scientific, historical, literary, social, and cultural perspectives. Biss, who is frequently compared with Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, shares five of the books that informed her study of immunity and inoculation.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
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"This novel is, among other things, a window into what the experience of disease and epidemic looked like before the advent of vaccination. Defoe published it in 1722, more than 50 years after the Great Plague in London, and it is fiction, but like many early novels it is written to read like nonfiction. Its meticulously researched details, including tabulations of the dead culled from actual records, are part of what make it a gripping read."


AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag
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"An elegant long essay that extends and complicates the critique Sontag introduced with Illness as Metaphor. Both essays are enlightening, but AIDS and Its Metaphors speaks to attitudes about disease that are more contemporary. For those who regard vaccination as an unnecessary complement to a healthy lifestyle, this book offers insight into our enduring tendency to understand illness as a punishment that may be avoided by living the "right" way."


Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen (Goodreads Author)
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"An exhaustive, comprehensive history of vaccination from early variolation against smallpox to the whole cell pertussis vaccine. For anyone who is hungry to know absolutely everything about this subject, Vaccine is a tremendous resource."


Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in England, 1853-1907 by Nadja Durbach
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"This is a scholarly book by a historian and is not light reading, but the history she is examining is fascinating, as is her analysis. Durbach is particularly attentive to the politics of class, race, and gender that informed and complicated the resistance to vaccination in Victorian England."


Flexible Bodies by Emily Martin
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"This is, again, a scholarly work by an anthropologist interested in how we think about immunity and our own immune systems. It is highly readable, despite the occasional flurry of academic language, and the ideas it introduces are thrilling—one being that the way we think about the systems outside our bodies has informed the way we understand our immune system and the relationship between our bodies and the world."





Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Mary (new)

Mary Donegan Wish someone would put out a list of their favorite, well written romances....my bookclub likes to read such a book in february.


message 2: by Alan (new)

Alan Thank you, Eula. Your entire list is fascinating. I'm looking into several of your selections. I also visited your website. That, too, is impressive. I know you don't have time to reply to these silly things, and frankly, this is the first time I've bothered writing anything--but is that your actual name, or a pen name? You have a face that da Vinci would love to have painted.


message 3: by Jasmin (new)

Jasmin Traum Thanks for the great list. I read A Journal of the Plague Year a while ago and really liked it. The other books look very interesting as well.


message 4: by Joaohenrique (new)

Joaohenrique Boca muito legal .... muito o brigado


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