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On Immunity: An Inoculation

by Eula Biss

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5673730,298 (4.03)43
Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear: fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in children's food, mattresses, medicines, and vaccines. Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding the 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.… (more)
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Biss says she has addressed this book to the many mothers she spoke to while pregnant, after her child's birth, and during the years she spent writing and researching this book. Even so, her clear, fluid prose carried me, a child-free male, through the currents of her meditative examinations of metaphors surfaced by the issue of vaccination.

I came into the book certain about the necessity of vaccination and angry at the "anti-vaxxers" and their fear-based arguments for mitigating minuscule risks by endangering their children and society as a whole. Biss' book didn't change my mind, but it helped me understand the history and philosophy and some of the science behind vaccination. And it helped me to see behind the caricatures of superstitious Luddites or fearless giant-killers our society and media use to depict the (mainly) mothers who oppose vaccination.

Anti-vaxxers are still terribly wrong. But I appreciate now that they are just misguided parents who don't recognize that the route they've chosen to try and keep their children safe is much more dangerous to the children and society than they can see. ( )
  evano | Feb 23, 2020 |
I read this book because I wanted to understand how concerned some parents are about vaccines and the health of their child.

As an upcoming primary teacher this is a phenomenon (though, not a new one) that I will have to deal with every day in my classroom, while still being the best advocate I can be for all the children in my care.

Eula Biss manages, very artfully, to use narratives and anecdotes of her life as a mother to frame this book. What I liked was how well she spoke about being overwhelmed with facts during motherhood. There's no end to the articles, recommendations of others, professional opinions, books, text books and websites that can give any one parent at any one time.

I really, really felt for Biss and I think it's those narratives that make her well-researched, well-thought out and well-argued book so exceptional. She crafts the almost-perfect Western ideal of an argument, a well-balanced, thorough examination of a topic that makes a point without invalidating evidence on the opposite side, no matter how false it may be.

What I liked was how Biss' non-fiction piece managed to validate so many concerns surrounding vaccines and how the way we think about ourselves and our bodies affects how we feel about vaccines. She examines the social history of vaccines and how our perceptions on immunity have changed throughout the centuries.

What I enjoyed most was her discussion on vaccines and privilege and how many sources she references and provides. Biss has footnotes and a selection of articles, texts and academic journal articles she used in the back of the book and while it's not a complete list I feel like I am ever so slightly more empowered to read further into this topic on my own if I want to.

If you have questions about vaccines or if you are feeling unsupported I would strongly urge to check out this book.

On Immunity: An Inoculation feels as comprehensive as it is compassionate. ( )
  lydia1879 | Feb 1, 2020 |
Musings on vaccination, fear and stupidity. A must read for anyone who is breathing. ( )
  AnnaHernandez | Oct 17, 2019 |
I found this book such a pleasure to read - Biss is a wonderful writer and weaves history, personal essay, and call to action seamlessly. I enjoyed learning about the very interesting history of vaccines and the author's concerns as a mother and as a member of our larger community resonated with me. I haven't read the other comments about this book, but I can imagine that the book was polarizing for some folks, as it is solidly in the "vaccine if you can" camp - but it really was much more than just that. Fans of history, fans of etymology, and fans of bioethics may really enjoy it! ( )
1 vote barrettlucero | Aug 23, 2019 |
On Immunity by Eula Biss is not quite what I expected it to be. I saw the title and didn’t consider the contents. I suppose it was probably during one of the times that I got into a reading binge of vaccination-related material. Eula Biss is not a scientist, she appears to be a writer. While this does not discredit her opinions or ideas, it does surprise me that she printed her musings on vaccines in this manner. At first, I was questioning my decision to actually read this, since the subject and writing style seemed to clash in my opinion. I was actually considering dropping it for a little bit, but I am glad that I did not.

The little blurb for the book sums the book up quite succinctly. As a new mother, Eula Biss was exposed to the absolute glut of warnings about everything in our modern society. With all of the contradictory evidence and different ideas in each thing you almost need a second pair of eyes to take all of it in. It grows to be sickening if you look for it all. Back when my mother was a child, she did a ton of things that modern parents would absolutely forbid or faint at. She was playing with a sharp object and somehow managed to stab it through her own foot. My grandfather got furious at her for ruining the floor since guests were coming. Playground equipment was set in hard concrete and made out of metal. Nowadays everything is soft and made of plastic.

Using the idea of inoculation and how it has affected society, Biss recounts the story of Mighty Achilles. We all know this one, right? Thetis, the mother of Achilles, attempted to make him immortal in one of two ways depending on the story. In the one I am familiar with, Thetis dipped Achilles in the River Styx, granting him invulnerability to his entire body except where he was held. We also know that Achilles was killed by a Poisoned Arrow to the heel of his foot. Biss draws from a number of examples in literature with Dracula being the other famous one. In the same vein, Dracula arrives in London on a boat, bringing with him rats and other disease-bearing vermin. Dracula spreads his curse as a disease, with the inflicted also cursing those they preyed upon. The Doctor characters that deal with Dracula even discuss the curse in terms of science and faith.

In talking about vaccinations and other processes by which we attempt to defend ourselves Eula Biss also dips into alternative medicine. While she does not endorse them, she explains how people can derive comfort from modern day Snake Oil.

So this book is a good touchstone for our modern society and how silly everything has become in worrying and trying to protect our children from society itself. It is an impossible problem, producing children that are coddled and totally unable to accept or act within social norms. I give this one a four out of five. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
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The first story I ever heard about immunity was told to me by my father, a doctor, when I was very young.
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Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear: fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in children's food, mattresses, medicines, and vaccines. Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding the 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.

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An exploration of the social, scientific and historical reasons behind anti-vaccine proponents and an argument against this stance.
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