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: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
It was an ok book. I didn’t really get as much from this book as I was expecting to. It didn’t make a great book for me mainly as far as content was concerned. But those who are seeking out a personal connection and wanting to find comfort in a community of self discovery about this specific topic may really enjoy it.
I guess all in all I found it less relatable in the way it presented material with the expectation that data would immediately jump to a positive outcome without understanding the process or context or respective community that specializes in such subjects. It didn’t dive into the nitty gritty of risk calculation in the way I wanted it to, rather than just seeking out a conversation on social health determinants from one person’s response as they weigh their fears and hopes against pros and cons, and if that’s the case, this book might be for you.
My takeaways were that I found it important to remember there were no comparisons or alternatives at the time and much of the process ranging from diagnostic and treatment protocols, to standards and ethics were still being explored and written. Some things about human behavior are not quantifiable to science. We have more time, more money, more accessibility to information, yet human irrationality is still an issue to battle.
I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.
Organized by storyline, writing style, tone, organization, editing.
It’s a long critique so grab a coffee!
It was more of a personal, exploratory anecdote of a woman’s discovery of life and all that comes with it, that people get sick, personal revelations from a from a sort of curious, yet almost naive perspective, teetering on paranoia. It sort of read more like some conversations you’d see on Facebook. Sharing how she felt agony the first time her son drank water, had some delusional experiences about seeing vampires. Some readers may relate to and glean from those types of experiences rather than expecting to read this book as an authoritative source on immunity as far as the physiological process goes.
Sort of vacillated between two ultimate decisions, rather than a compromise of the two. Some ideas seamed to be headed toward personal support for full anarchy with others representing full governmental control, all stemming from a point of reference of someone who didn’t seem to truly know how to make up her mind. I think some decisions and placement of facts supported a fair amount of healthy skepticism; however, it was more of an internal conversation of the narrator with herself, made into a book, where I wasn’t sure where intention of the premise was headed and the pacing wasn’t tight enough to direct me there.
It was more of a cynical take, depicting failures of immunity from every aspect rather than excitement about science and discovery. Which was fine, I just didn’t realize that going into it, and therefore, felt it to be quite a bit of a drag. This book could have been labeled, All the Times Capitalism and Modern Medicine has Failed Us as far as content was concerned.
This book portrays the narrator’s uneasiness, her skepticism, her wanting what is best for her personal health and loved ones. There wasn’t much mentioned in the way of safety and efficacy data or risk versus benefit. There wasn’t a deeper dive into the original research. Seemingly it read like more like a call for unity in personal reassurance with an attempt to substantiate feelings with what seems like more time researching rumors than hard science. This book was basically the product of that.
Almost read like the narrator was focused on finding these gotcha moments, gaps in the literature, and ultimately filled the holes with anecdotal evidence and quotes, supportive opinion pieces that rival with the preceding statement, but without remedy or display of personal satisfaction with the proposed solutions or reality at hand once they’ve been fulfilled or corrected.
I didn’t know what would ever satisfy the narrator to give her peace in her own mind and that was at times frustrating to keep reading through.
The biggest example was stated at the end “I still believe there are reasons to vaccinate that transcend medicine” but the narrator did not give a lot of support in helping the reader believe that throughout the entire book, that she would ever come to such a conclusion.
I think more statistical data would have given the arguments and counter arguments more strength instead of vague phrases like “relatively small” and “nearly everyone” and “most other people,” and “a number of people.”
There seemed to be this underlying expectation beyond moral hazard and dilemmas that were actually not known to the medical community at the time. Almost an expectation of harmony when life turned out otherwise and this sense of taking it personally. Maybe there was an unrecognized lack of trust and yearning to take back control with a lot of fear to conquer, yet I didn’t see a lot of “aha” moments or actions to show me as a reader how this narrator coped and became satisfied with her findings, or with life in general. The last quote about the garden from Voltaire’s book was more of the saving grace, but not much led up to that point aside from this notion of blood type connecting races, ultimately recognizing that all humans are human.
It was written in first-person, very fitting, and definitely seemed to come from a place of good intention to share a personal experience. Yet it spoke more toward the experiential side of how one’s personal life has been affected by the surrounding world by also interchangeably using the word “we” which often popped up to describe the narrator’s own worldview, parading the views of similar group think as universal collectivism.
It was more like an opinion piece, an editorial journal article, or blog post written to depict a sort of maladjusted or misinformed individual seeking out truth and this was her journey. Again, perhaps some readers can relate. The narrator was a bit unnerved about many things, almost speaking for one, speaking for all type of manner. It didn’t clearly delineate clinical duty and perspective from regulatory perspective, nor public confidence from individual confidence and how they all play out with each other and how that has changed over time.
It was written with a doubtful tone, much frustration, and examples were worst case scenario. Stating a fact, then following it with “if all is well.” It seemed to view situations through an idealistic lens, rather than the reality as it lies. It basically put modern day expectations on old-fashioned practices.
There was a negative connotation to almost every statement. Even when it came to word choice, in the most exaggerated sense. Not just an exploration of facts but human response in the worst light. Often dividing the world and each individual response and decision as black or white, death or life, good or bad, etc… On rare occasion it contained some balance of perspective, defining terms and root meaning along the way, but went right back to gloom and doom. In realizing that this book was more about sharing personal experience, I just would have liked to have seen the narrator connect with herself more and just come out expressing some true, deep emotion, saying “Oh I was incredibly angry… oh I was upset… oh I was sad…oh I was full of joy…”
The organization of chapters was not so great. Timelines as far as historical discoveries, her son’s development, and disease categories, stages of immunity, were not neatly in their chapters.
Instead it jumped from concept to concept.
Interjections of DDT, the state of belonging, Dracula, and then her son’s birth. Followed again by smallpox then childbirth, then back to smallpox, back to swine flu, then remarks on capitalism, back to drawing out symbolism with vampirism, then prenatal experiences, then vaccines causing autism discussion, conscience, to Coca-Cola’s “nerve tonic” history. Even goes into 3/5 Compromise with a totally out of context metaphor, then to Corexit, and back again to smallpox.
Could have used some additional editing as some sentences were a repeat of each other, other sentences were really out if place without connection to subject matter or proper transition.
There were quotes with the named author early on, yet only introducing readers to their status/role way late in the book.
I think readers looking for a more relatable experience rather than a deep dive into scientific insight or a literary piece of work would probably appreciate it more than I did. Perhaps this is more geared toward someone who just wants to find a similar mother-child relationship, someone who they can sympathize with qualms about vaccination and medicine in general, as well as find confirmation and comfort in that shared experience.
I appreciated it for what it was, but this just wasn’t the book for me.
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