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.
©2014 Eula Biss. (P)2014 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
This is an essay about, and a history of, immunisation. It sounds dry but it really isn't. The author is American and a new mother and brings concerns that I'm not sure are as prevalent in the UK but is very even handed and thoughtful, referencing history and literature and other essayists, notably Susan Sontag. The NY Times rated it in their top 10 for 2014 and I can see why. Highly recommended.
"More than I Expected"
I did actually listen to most of it twice, in 24 hours. It's a very-well woven story and it's easy to forget it's non-fiction and in what one might think would be a "heavy" genre. I did learn a lot and will forever think of vaccines differently. Much more than a personal choice.
She fits the writing and narrates with that flow that makes one forget it's not the author telling her tale.
This book reads a lot like a journal, a bit like mythology, a bit like philosophy... and it is a fresh take on a topic not often covered. It is never over-the-top on density. It is easy to understand without any "talking down" to the reader. Much more than I expected for what possibly does not sound like a fascinating topic. Excellent writing. Impressive detail attention to providing sources. Clearly well-researched yet presented in a captivating "story" style.
"Amazing survey of attitudes"
One of the most perplexing issues in healthcare today is the widespread resistance to vaccines. Those of us who grew up in the polio era find this attitude incomprehensible. Ms Biss surveys the history of vaccines, presents pros and cons and provides an unassailable reason to consent to them: the public good.
"A Mother's Search For Peace of Mind"
"On Immunity" is far more than a book about vaccines. Rather, Biss takes us on a journey as she tries to navigate motherhood and modern medicine. Excessive use of antibiotics that is leading to resistance. Extreme allergies. Modern plagues. So much here that, honestly. How anyone raises children nowadays without living in terror 24/7 is beyond me.
But don't get me wrong. The gist is indeed about inoculations: history, studies, reports, responses. (To me, one of the most fascinating bits of history was of people lancing boils with needles and then "injecting/sewing" the pus into the flesh of loved ones. Truly, quite interesting.) It's a fairly even-handed review of all that's out there, with interviews of a variety of experts, mothers/parents, and it's quite enlightening and thought-provoking. It tackles the hysteria, it tackles the facts.
(And by the way? There's one part, I won't spoil it, that goes into the consequences of the U.S. attempting to start a faux inoculation campaign in Pakistan that is heartbreaking.)
This isn't a dry listen, at x1.25 speed. It reads like some of the best creative non-fiction, and Tamara Marston gives a wonderful performance that held my attention.
I come from a state where our ex-governor tried to make it mandatory for girls to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus.
Jeez! And here I thought I was outraged before "On Immunity: An Inoculation."
Take an obsessive, worried mother + everything she has read that reminds her of immunity + what her neighbors were saying + what her physician father said + every novel that she can metaphorically tie to immunity = a jumble that is 7 hours too long.
"A Provocative Set Of Essays On Immunity"
Eula Biss, the author of "On Immunization: An Inoculation" is the daughter of a poet and a doctor. She is herself a poet and a renowned essayist, this creates a seemingly absurd but interesting background that I think allows her to bring a unique perspective to an issue that could be otherwise tedious and dull.
Before reading this book, I never considered that the subject of immunizations was as complex and vast as it is. But as I discovered our seemingly never ending argument about vaccines is not only a health issue, it is also a political/economic/philosophical/ theological and bio-ethical debate.
"On Immunization: An Inoculation", provides a very comprehensive, rational and thorough research of vaccines and their history, how they are developed, why they are so controversial and why we feared them so much. Bliss's takes a nuanced approach on the issue and although she comes strongly on the side that favors the widespread use of vaccines, she seems to make a a point of being respectful of people that are on both sides of the so called "vaccination debate".
The rise of the anti-vaccine movement in the United States, has created an unusual (and from my point of view dangerous) alliance across some extreme ideological political lines. On the left side of the spectrum, we have liberals skeptic of pharmaceuticals companies that developed, patent, manufacture and aggressively market vaccines, on the other side there are conservatives and libertarians that held a cynical view of government and its involvement in monitoring, distributing and regulating them.
As the mother of a boy who was diagnosed with Autism at 2 1/2 years-old, I experienced a fair amount of apprehension when deciding whether or not my child should continue receiving all his immunization shots and if so, if he was to get them on the schedule recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and his pediatrician.
It was a difficult and unnerving experience because back in 2007, there was so much to learn about the whole Autism spectrum, its causes, best treatments and whether or not we had reliable studies confirming or denying a link between the MMR (stands for Measles, Mumps & Rubella) vaccine and the outbreak of Autism we were facing.
So I did my best to research the issue, discussed the matter with my child doctors and ultimately decided to err on the side of caution: when outweighing the risks of not being immunized vs. the non-proven risks that linked Autism to the MMR vaccine, the former was scarier than the latter.
The book reads as a collection of essays and at it starts with Bliss's interesting connection of Greek mythology (Achilles was " made immune to injure but not to heal") and Gothic horror (Dracula demonstrates our deep fears of contagion) with the overall theme of our fears over the practice of immunization. The idea of contaminating our children with the very hazard with hope to avoid sounds indeed almost mythological.
The author looks at our unease with immunization as a metaphor that reflect on the larger fears and anxieties we have regarding government intervention, unethical medical and pharmaceutical companies and our overall predisposition to distrusts the injection of anything that doesn't feel "natural" into our bodies. And I do believe that these fears are particularly enhanced when it comes to making decisions that affect our children.
Bliss also makes an important moral and social argument in favor of Immunizations: vaccines protect not only those that have been immunized, but also those that for different reasons, sometimes very valid and justifiable reasons, are unable to do so. This include people with impaired immune systems, pregnant women and people that are too young or too old, to name a few.
This was a really enlightening book to listen and read to (I bought the Kindle version of the book as well).
Tamara Marston was a perfect choice to narrate this book. She has a pleasant voice and modulates it in a way that does not distract the listener from concentrating on the content of the book. Really a great narrator especially for Non-fiction books!
"Wonderful, smart, nuanced book"
Intelligent, thoughtful, and even-handed. Wish we could make this required reading for every anti-vax parent out there.
"Shoots and ladders read"
The premise was good, the audio sample sounded decent, plus being written early on in the now highly bitter anti-vaccination discussion, I figured it would be a good overview of vaccination. What I got was a rambling series of factoids very loosely tied to the author's issues as a new parent. You get to dropped into anecdotes of vaccination in myths which leads to a fixation on vampires mythos, the origin of words and musings on what they tell us about society, roots of vaccines, and doses of how she isn't a journalist all used like commas to punctuate the haphazardly picked moments of her as a new mother. All of that could go well, but I never feel any tangent goes deep enough to gain the deep insight she is hoping for or for me to build a connection so I can care about all of her worries. Perpetually dropping the reading into all of these moments is just annoying.
"Actually 3.5 stars"
Disclaimer -- I do not have children and so have never been involved in the immunization debate. However, I have to say I really enjoyed this book. I thought the author did a very good job of mixing in history/science/literature/culture while nicely framing the story around her own struggles deciding whether to vaccinate her own child. I have to say that some of literary devices were lost on me (perhaps the Vampire analogy was pushed too far), but I did find it interesting and worth listening to.
"I have no more questions about vaccines!"
Thanks to this book, I have no more concerns when it comes to having my kids vaccinated. I will, however, still keep avoiding the seasonal flu shots as long as I have a choice.
"The Well Examined Virus"
Eula Bliss' "On Immunity: An Inoculation" (2014) has a surprisingly even handed discussion of an incredibly divisive and polarizing issue (for some people, at least): vaccination. There's a tendency on both sides to take the, "Jane, you ignorant s***" approach to anti-vaxers. As Urban Dictionary explains, the saying is from an "An old Saturday Night Live parody of ad hominem attacks made by pundits." Dan Akroyd's delivery was spot on, but Akroyd isn't on the attack and real lives are at stake.
Anti-vax proponents such as actress Jenny McCarthy invite ad hominem attacks, but those aren't particularly effective. As anyone who lives in Southern California knows, even a tragically misinformed actor can be persuasive. Bliss avoids the easy "All actresses are dumb, especially bleached blondes" trope and takes the anti-vax position seriously.
Bliss respectfully explains the reasons they've developed their beliefs. Vaccines may not cause autism, but vaccines have, from time to time, killed children. Lack of immunity has always sickened and killed far more children than vaccines have, and Bliss has the peer reviewed, published studies that back the findings.
Bliss' intricately detailed book isn't limited to vaccines. She discusses what immunity means and the historic development of immunity as both sociological and scientific constructs. Bliss has a uniquely literary foundation for a thought provoking scientific work, and her discussion ranges from medical history to classical literature to current cutting edge theory.
Bliss herself isn't 'immune' from the hype about the issue: she admits to deciding against having a highly recommend hepatitis vaccine administered to her son at birth - which meant that his life was endangered just hours later after she had life threatening childbirth complications and received a blood transfusion. Hearing that anguished story was excruciating and harrowing.
"On Immunity" has more than an hour of endnotes. Bliss' research is meticulously well documented. If I'd known the endnotes were there, I would have listened to them after each chapter.
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