On Immunity is broadly about the anti-vaccination movement and Biss' feelings about it as a new mother, but it's one of those books which is really about America, about protection, metaphor and how we behave as individuals when our communities feel under siege. More to the point, it feels more potently relevant and necessary than it did two years ago when I first read it. It's the kind of book that stays with you long afterwards, growing roots. Eula Biss is one of the best non-fiction writers working today — like Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, her thinking is sharp and precise, but her prose is creative and lyrical and moves in the same kind of cross-genre loops as Maggie Nelson and Anne Carson.— Madeleine
“Biss' essays about the immunization debate range from the personal to the body politic and back again. Drawing on her experiences as a mother and employing an astonishing diversity of sources, Biss plumbs our ancient fear of infection. Acknowledging the permeability of both our borders and bodies, she arrives at the conclusion that 'immunity is a shared space-a garden we tend together.' Biss' precise language and wry humor make On Immunity as engaging as it is informative.”
— Brooke Alexander, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX
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.
“Subtle, spellbinding. . . . Sontag said she wrote Illness as Metaphor to 'calm the imagination, not to incite it,' and On Immunity also seeks to cool and console. But where Sontag was imperious, Biss is stealthy. She advances from all sides, like a chess player, drawing on science, myth, literature to herd us to the only logical end, to vaccinate.” —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review
“On Immunity casts a spell. . . . There's drama in watching this smart writer feel her way through this material. She's a poet, an essayist and a class spy. She digs honestly into her own psyche and into those of 'people like me,' and she reveals herself as believer and apostate, moth and flame.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Deftly interweaving personal history, cultural analysis, science journalism, and literary criticism, On Immunity investigates vaccinations from many angles--as the mechanism that protects us from disease, a metaphor for our wish for invulnerability, and a class-based privilege. . . . [Biss] has been compared to Joan Didion, and the reasons are obvious here. Like Didion she has a gift for coming at her subjects from all sides, in unsentimental, lyrical prose.” —Meghan O'Rourke, Bookforum
“A welcome antidote--or ‘inoculation,' as the subtitle suggests--against the toxic shouting match occurring between ‘anti-vaxxers' and their opponents. . . . Biss leaps nimbly through a vertiginous range of subjects. . . . Brilliant and entertaining.” —The Boston Globe
“Fascinating. . . . Biss can turn practically anything into a metaphor for immunity: Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Occupy Wall Street movement, immigration policy, Greek mythology. . . . By exploring the anxieties about what's lurking inside our flu shots, the air, and ourselves, she drives home the message that we are all responsible for one another. On Immunity will make you consider that idea on a fairly profound level.” —Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A
“Elegant and bracing. . . . Biss approaches the [essay] form with the sensibility of a poet. . . . On Immunity is remarkable for its scope. Biss's reading of the political dimensions of vaccination, on the ways in which one's own health and sickness are contingent on that of others, is particularly thoughtful and penetrating.” —Slate
“[An] elegant, intelligent and very beautiful book, which occupies a space between research and reflection, investigating our attitudes toward immunity and inoculation through a personal and cultural lens.” —Los Angeles Times
“Biss's gracious rhetoric and her insistence that she feels 'uncomfortable with both sides' of the rancorous fight may frustrate readers looking for a pro-vaccine polemic. Yet her approach might actually be more likely to sway fearful parents, offering them an alternative set of images and associations to use in thinking about immunization. . . . Compelling. . . . This is writing designed to conquer anxiety.” —The New Yorker
“Biss ably tracks the progress of immunization. . . . Biss also administers a thoughtful, withering critique to more recent fears of vaccines--the toxins they carry, from mercury to formaldehyde, and accusations of their role in causing autism. The author keeps the debate lively and surprising, touching on Rachel Carson here and ‘Dr. Bob' there. She also includes her father's wise counsel, which accommodates the many sides of the topic but arrives at a clear point of view: Vaccinate. Brightly informative, giving readers a sturdy platform from which to conduct their own research and take personal responsibility.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“[A] far-reaching and unusual investigation into immunity. . . . Artfully mixing motherhood, myth, maladies, and metaphors into her presentation, Biss transcends medical science and trepidation.” —Booklist, starred review
“A thoughtful and probing analysis of the cultural myths surrounding vaccination. Biss mines within herself and within her community to understand how and why such myths gain traction in society.” —Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine