On Immunity

On Immunity

An Inoculation

Book - 2014
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A New York Times Best Seller
A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
A New York Times Book Review Top 10 Book of the Year
A Facebook "Year of Books" Selection

One of the Best Books of the Year
* National Book Critics Circle Award finalist * The New York Times Book Review (Top 10) * Entertainment Weekly (Top 10) * New York Magazine (Top 10)* Chicago Tribune (Top 10) * Publishers Weekly (Top 10) * Time Out New York (Top 10) * Los Angeles Times * Kirkus * Booklist * NPR's Science Friday * Newsday * Slate * Refinery 29 * And many more...

Why do we fear vaccines? A provocative examination by Eula Biss, the author of Notes from No Man's Land , winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

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 our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire's Candide , Bram Stoker's Dracula , Rachel Carson's Silent Spring , Susan Sontag's AIDS and Its Metaphors , and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected-our bodies and our fates.

Publisher: Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781555976897
Branch Call Number: 616.079 BISS E
Characteristics: 205 pages ; 22 cm


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Oct 09, 2017

On Immunity explores the charged issue of vaccination, an issue that as a new mother she was about to face. Biss writes a beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent response to those who would drive a stake through the heart of caring for the health of our neighbors, driven by carefully cultivated fear. “On Immunity . . . weaves metaphor and myth, science and sociology, philosophy and politics into a tapestry rich with insight and intelligence.” (Jerome Groopman, The New York Review of Books) I highly recommend this book to those of us intent on sorting through the noise.

Oct 25, 2016

Other, lesser books have tried to answer the question of whether and how to vaccinate. This one invites us to deeply consider the larger implications of immunity, vaccination, the ties that bind us to others (both human and non-human) - and how we define and justify health decisions for ourselves, our families, and communities. Its interconnected essays are penetrating, profound, and beautifully written.

Jul 22, 2015

A well balanced book useful for parents thinking about immunising.

May 14, 2015

I appreciated the brevity and coverage of the main points regarding the vaccination debate. I did not enjoy past the first reference the constant referral of Dracula, as if it is a source of importance. Which it isn't. It was brought up at the beginning of a lot of chapters and kept sending me into a "this sounds like a college thesis" trying-too-hard mode that was really distracting. Just stop. Really. The content sans Dracula is good enough. She did this with a few other pop culture references that I found more annoying than useful.

One topic I would have really liked to see more about is vaccination and allergies. She mentions allergies later in the book and attributes it to being too clean but kind of mumbles that the origin of allergies is still a mystery. I would really like to know if vaccination does have any affect on allergies, although I agree that antibacterial products and over-cleaning is a problem.

May 12, 2015

I am not convinced this is a fair and balanced, or well researched book. Sure, I am pro-vaccinations, as long as stringent medical oversight is observed, but that has again and again been proven severely lacking. Examples, at least three times [from Euro news reports, American news blackout on the subject] Baxter Pharmaceuticals // accidentally \\ shipped out seriously contaminated [as in pandemic level] vaccine samples to over a thousand labs - - the TGN 1412 experiment, when human experiment protocol was horribly ignored, and the victims received little to no monetary compensation for the horrors visited upon them - - that recent penalty levied against GlaxoSmithKline, vaccine manufacturer, the largest penalty in UK history - - and many, many more. Logically, capitalists and capitalism have battled against clean water, clean air, and public health [and especially national healthcare] - - reference the outstanding book, Morbid Symptoms, from the Socialist Register, a most important book in this discussion. And the senior executives at medical corporations [including medical records companies and clinics] are just as sociopathic greedhead as those at the banks and oil companies.

Apr 27, 2015

In the completely polarized public conflict over childhood vaccination, this book fills a niche, and may be something that can reconcile the two warring "sides" in the issue. Biss is a woman who, as a new mother, researched the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and agonized over the decision to vaccinate her child or not. While she eventually chose vaccination, and believes it to be the best and most reasonable choice, she is able to understand and sympathize with those who refuse it, or those who have trouble deciding. Biss doesn't avoid the unpleasant realities relating to public health. The cover illustration, of Achilles' mother hopefully but (as we know) unsuccessfully "vaccinating" her son against death in the River Styx, sets the tone for the book. From the unintended human deaths caused by banning DDT, to the conflict between personal freedom and public responsibility, Biss faces up to the ambiguities and Catch-22's involved in either choice, insisting that there is no perfect solution where health is concerned, no guarantee of safety or freedom from disease, and so we have to choose from among those imperfect options. Neither are there clear "good guys" and "bad guys" in her book; she demonstrates that painting non-vaccinating parents as gullible kooks is no more accurate or helpful than seeing pro-vaccine doctors as narrow-minded dupes of the pharmaceutical industry. The book is more philosophical than factual, but it covers a great deal that needs to be discussed relating to public health, and to vaccination in particular. Definitely worth reading, no matter what stand you take on the subject.

JCLEmilyW Apr 01, 2015

Eula Biss skillfully tackles the hot-button topic of childhood vaccinations with a insightful combination of cultural history and personal essays. Although she comes down strongly in favor of vaccinations, the book also explores the philosophical motivations behind the anti-vaccination movement. Biss acknowledges that all parents worry about exposing their children to unknown risks, but argues that the deadly childhood diseases prevented by inoculation are far more dangerous. She is most persuasive and moving as she advocates for the moral and ethical necessity to protect other people's children by participating in vaccinations.

Dec 29, 2014

Science colored by poetry and art.

Nov 17, 2014

I found ON IMMUNITY self-absorbed and meandering; what could have been a wonderful, relatively slim volume on the fears about disease and vaccination and the lack of understanding about immunity crossed with scientific achievements and interesting facts was instead a navel-gazing look at how often we humans gaze at our own navels instead of being reasonable.

ksoles Nov 01, 2014

"Birth is the original inoculation" writes Eula Biss. Passing from our mothers' bodies exposes us to microbes that both threaten us and ensure our survival, a paradox which sparks this thoughtful, elegant book exploring the risks and rewards of vaccination. With research and reflection, "On Immunity" investigates society's attitudes towards inoculation through a personal and cultural lens.

Drawing from folklore, epidemiology, politics, studies on mercury and autism and her own encounters with parents opposed to vaccination, Biss concludes that myths and stigma shape our fears: "when we encounter information that contradicts our beliefs… we tend to doubt the information, not ourselves." Thus, she deftly addresses not only the infections caused by viruses but also those caused by ideas.

Biss emerges as a vigorous advocate for inoculation. She exposes the windy rhetoric of the anti-vaccination movement but also understands the fear at its heart, a fear that causes us to lose sight of human interdependence. After all, vaccinating only a part of the population will not arrest an epidemic; individual intentions feed a larger whole proving that we are inextricably linked.

The most harrowing parts of "On Immunity" describes what happens when we ignore this link: the unvaccinated child who returned from Switzerland with a case of the measles that infected eleven other children, a campaign in Nigeria to suspend polio inoculations based on the belief that Western powers adulterated them with AIDS-causing viruses. We pride ourselves on rationality but allow suppositions to govern us. We believe not the truth but that which we WISH was true.

Poignantly, Biss asks, what can we really be sure of? The answer is nothing. And so "On Immunity" ultimately reads as a set of questions about how we frame our interactions with the world. With all we do not and cannot know, what will we do with our fear?

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