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.
A New York Times Best Seller, National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and a New York Times Book Review Top 10 Book of the Year.
...an enthralling, deeply personal book that’s by turns lyrical and impassioned, lucid and enlightening – one woman’s journey to discover the best way forward for her son, herself and the communities of which we are all a part ... There are many wonderful, illuminating reflections in On Immunity, how vaccine refusal in Pakistan and Nigeria can be understood as a legitimate form of anti-colonial resistance; how capitalism has inadvertently limited our imaginations by making us blame it for everything; how metaphors of the body at 'war' with bacteria are misleading, and 'war' should be left to warmongers. Candide, Dracula and Silent Spring are mined for the ways they illustrate contemporary anxieties around toxins and vaccination ... Biss chose to vaccinate her son, and On Immunity is brave because it will attract hostility from those she implies are selfish or misguided in refusing to vaccinate. Her arguments are profoundly compelling, and her narratives are braided together with beauty and elegance. The book is itself an inoculation – it grafts and unites different traditions of the essay, and in doing so creates something stronger and more resilient. And its urgent message is an inoculation against ignorance and fearmongering: may it spread out through the world, bringing substance and common sense to the vaccination debate.
In her new book, the subtle, spellbinding On Immunity, [Biss] goes under the skin. She asks why vaccination triggers such anxiety — anxiety so intense it lives in the language: The British call it a 'jab,' Americans, a 'shot.' ... 'Our fears are dear to us,' she writes, and she parses these fears with kindness and complicity ... 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. To refuse is to fall in love with our fears, to create a fantasy of our purity and vulnerability and forget all the ways we are dangerous ... Biss reminds us that we owe each other our lives.
...[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 ... Make no mistake: Biss’ child is not unvaccinated. She is a vigorous advocate for inoculation; throughout the book, she reveals the rhetoric of the anti-vaccination movement for the sophistry it is. At the same time, she understands the fear at its heart ... What Biss is getting at is distrust of the other, an epidemic that cuts both ways. We live in a culture that prides itself on being rational, when in fact we are as governed by superstitions, suppositions, as we ever were ... On Immunity seeks to function as a cultural inoculation; hence the subtitle of the book. It is elliptical, elusive, neither collection nor narrative exactly but more a set of questions about how we frame our interactions with the world.