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A New York Times Notable Book of 2014
A New York Times Book Review Best Book of 2014
When Eula Biss became a mother, she stepped into a new world of fear: fear of the government, the medical establishment, the contents of her child’s air, food, mattress and vaccines.
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. Weaving her personal experiences with an exploration of classical and contemporary literature, Biss considers what vaccines, and the debate around them, mean for her own child, her immediate community and the wider world.
On Immunity is an inoculation against our fear and a moving account of how we are all interconnected; our bodies and our fates.
‘So well written, it’s unbelievable’
‘It’s fascinating reading, made possible by Biss’ particular blend of scepticism and empathy…Although the book is beautifully written in minimal prose and organised sharply, it is hard to overstate the wealth of information threaded and elaborated throughout its tidy, sturdy structure.’
‘Her [Biss] exploration of the history of vaccinating is absorbing.’
‘She advances from all sides, like a chess player, drawing on science, myth, literature…What she seems to be suggesting is that knowledge isn’t an inoculation. It doesn’t happen just once. There are things that must be learned and learned again, seen first with the mind and felt later in the body.’
‘This elegant, intelligent and very beautiful book…is elliptical, elusive, neither collection nor narrative exactly but more a set of questions about how we frame our interactions with the world.’
‘The power of Biss’s book stems, in the end, from its subtle insistence on the interrelationship of things—of the mythological and the medical, the private and the public, the natural and the unnatural—and on the idea that one’s relationship with disease and immunity is not distinct from one’s relationship with the world.’
‘Biss’s project, it turns out, is far grander than a simple explanation of the facts…On Immunity is as much a book about trust as it is a book about vaccines.’
‘A multilayered investigation of fear and perception.’
‘On Immunity is a history, a personal narrative, ultimately a powerful argument that reads, the whole time, like a poem.’
‘Here’s the biggest twist: On Immunity is not actually about vaccination. This is a deeply philosophical book, one that’s less concerned with pure science than with the elemental fear that we can never protect our children from the world.’
‘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 reveals herself as believer and apostate, moth and flame.’
‘[Biss] brings a sober, erudite, and humane voice to an often overheated debate.’
‘A brilliant and empathic exploration of the vaccine wars, at once entertaining and useful.’
‘Artfully mixing motherhood, myth, maladies, and metaphors into her presentation, Biss transcends medical science and trepidation.’
‘Brightly informative, giving readers a sturdy platform from which to conduct their own research and take personal responsibility.’
‘Biss frankly and optimistically looks at our ‘unkempt’ world and our shared mission to protect one another.’
‘On Immunity needs no topical hook to recommend it, such is its power as a work of literature. Eula Biss is as fine a thinker as she is a stylist.’
‘Biss has produced a book that’s like a luxurious quilt, beautiful and comforting…[her] approach is subtle and indirect, circling the subject to illuminate it from different angles.’
‘On Immunity is essential reading for anyone genuinely interested in the subject. Pro or con, it will shake up what you think you know.’
‘Thoughtful and thought provoking.’
‘[Biss] dispels myths and delineates our fears. She notes her own fallibilities and transient misconceptions, and through this brisk and readable book enlightens us all.’
‘On Immunity richly rewards a casual dip and, indeed, can be sampled in almost any order to experience the beguiling, life-saving world of the immune system and all that surrounds it.’
‘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.’
‘Biss’s clarity of thought is well worth experiencing. The sheer scale of subjects she manages to deal with is impressive. Paired with such a fascinating and contentious subject, On Immunity: An Inoculation will inject a wealth of information into your week.’
‘As any great essayist does, Biss moves outward in concentric circles from her own very private view of the world to reveal wider truths, discovering as she does a culture consumed by anxiety at the pervasive toxicity of contemporary life. As Biss interrogates this culture—of privilege, of whiteness—she interrogates herself, questioning the flimsy ways in which we arm ourselves with science or superstition against the impurities of daily existence.‘