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Eula Biss

Author of On Immunity: An Inoculation

11+ Works 1,554 Members 75 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Includes the names: Eula Biss, Eula Bliss

Image credit: By Slowking4 - Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35034131

Works by Eula Biss

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Common Knowledge

Birthdate
1977
Gender
female
Nationality
USA
Places of residence
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Education
University of Iowa (MFA)
Relationships
Graf, Ellen (mother)
Organizations
Northwestern University

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Reviews

This book is about the author's discomfort with being middle class *and* how nice and comfortable it is to be middle class. There's something wrong with "earning" money by investing in the stock market, but there's something so right about being able to retire and just write.

In this book, she talks about buying a house, furnishing it, and her job at a big university. There are lots of pop culture explorations including Scooby-doo and Rihanna. She includes some discussion of systemic racism, but this book is mainly about her personal experience as a white woman writer with lots of references to other white women writers like Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson and her friends who are poets and artists.

It feels like Eula Biss and I have enough in common that I find her perspective compelling. I loved her book about vaccination. I didn't like this one as much, but it still gave me a lot to ponder.
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LibrarianDest | 10 other reviews | Jan 3, 2024 |
I have a big book crush on Eula Biss now. This book is deep without being difficult. I found it super thought-provoking, especially her thoughts on sympathizing with anti-vax feelings. I admit to harshly judging anti-vaxxers, but it is not totally irrational to fear/distrust the establishment. There is a lot to chew on in terms of who we trust and why.

She is less sympathetic to individualism/exceptionalism. One of my favorite sections from the book is: "I do not need to consult an ethicist to determine that there is something wrong [with making a special exemption just for yourself]." She points out that when we give blood, we are doing it for others, not for ourselves. Getting vaccinated should be seen in this same light.

This was published in 2014 and it's still very relevant in 2021 in the midst of COVID vaccinations.

This is also a book that felt deeply relevant to me as the parent of a young child. The fear/anxiety of parenting in the 21st century is almost unbearable to me sometimes. It felt good to read someone as smart as Biss struggle with the same issues and parse their origins. There's a great section on how many parents value "purity" and cleanliness and things that are "natural" in parenting. Our fears are often out of whack with the actual risks.

This is also a book about the "us versus them" mentality both in terms of how we related to germs/viruses (are they foreign invaders or are they part of us?) and how we relate to other humans (do we blame disease on those perceived as other or different?). Metaphors and analogies matter.
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LibrarianDest | 49 other reviews | Jan 3, 2024 |
An exceptionally well-crafted example of NPR propaganda. Very creepy now, in the aftermath of the COVID-related executive orders that drove millions of people out of their jobs.

What makes it peak NPR? A few examples are: 1) the air of sweet reasonableness with which the author does not bother to accuse but simply asserts that her erstwhile pediatrician is a racist, 2) the determined innumeracy with which she examines the phrase "herd immunity", 3) the endless stories of her trials and tribulations around the allergies and illnesses of her unfortunate son, 4) the frequent misuse of "we" to mean all-readers-of-the-book rather than what it really means, which is I-and-all-my-friends-who-think-exactly-like-me, 5) the way every pharmaceutical-which-is-called-a-vaccine administered must be described as a "life saved" regardless of whether or not the child so treated was, e.g., eaten by a leopard on the way home. Etc.

On the other hand, she has a good vocabulary and when she abuses that vocabulary, e.g., using "conflate" to mean make-an-analogy-with, she does so with intent.
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themulhern | 49 other reviews | Sep 20, 2023 |
I've read a lot of writings by doctors, scientists, and skeptical activists about the misinformation on and public resistance to vaccines, and while many of them are excellent at laying out the facts on the subject, I often come away from them with the sense that they may, by and large, be preaching to the choir, or even taking an approach likely to alienate those most in need of their message.

But then there's this. The best description I can put forward for On Immunity is that it's a book about vaccines aimed at liberal humanities majors, written by one of their own. Which I think might sound like a criticism to some, but it is emphatically not. Eula Biss may be more of a poet than a scientist, but she has very thoroughly done her research here -- and not in the shallow, self-confirming sense that far too many people mean when they brag about "doing their own research" -- and she understands the facts and the science commendably well. But she also understands the emotions that real people feel when it comes to their bodies, their societies, and their children, as well as the metaphors we use to think about these things and the effects that those have on us. And she is anything but dismissive of these emotions and instincts and ways of thinking, even as she recognizes where they can fail. Through it all, she draws upon her own deeply personal experiences as a mother, sharing her profound feelings for her child and struggling with her uncertainties about what is best for him. She does all of this eloquently, thoughtfully, and movingly, and, perhaps, in a way that might reach those who find appeals to cold, hard rationality alone to be lacking something important to them.

This was originally published in 2014, and revolves, in part, around the H1N1 epidemic that was ongoing when her son was born, and which first prompted many of her fears and interests around the subjects of immunity and vaccines. But it has only become incredibly more relevant since. I'm only sorry I didn't read it a couple of years ago, so I could have gone around recommending it everywhere then.
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½
1 vote
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bragan | 49 other reviews | Sep 9, 2023 |

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Works
11
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5
Members
1,554
Popularity
#16,577
Rating
4.0
Reviews
75
ISBNs
40
Languages
5
Favorited
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