July 2, 2015

Book Review: "On Immunity: an Innoculation," by Eula Biss

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

On Immunity, by Eula Biss

You might expect a book called On Immunity to be a little dry, or else too esoteric for its own good. I know that was what I thought when I first heard about it - the sort of book that's great for someone with a vested interest in immunology and impenetrable for everyone else. This didn't end up as the case at all. Sure, Biss did a mountain of research into the history of immunity - she discusses the rise of and reactions to germ theory, outdated and frankly disgusting vaccination methods, and the current debate about vaccines and autism - but with one eye on the larger cultural conversation and another on her personal experience.

Like Sontag, frequently referenced in this book, Biss digs for the root of our metaphors of the diseased body at war, offering alternative discourse and discussing instances in which the analysis holds up. Vampires also come into play, on similar terms - Dracula is read as a bringer of disease and an out-of-control capitalist in addition to the standard handsome seducer. She's interested in how fear of disease fits in with our general culture of panic. On Immunity therefore analyzes a frightening dilemma: that both vaccines and the anti-vaccine movement are rooted in a broader culture of fear.

However, On Immunity also shines in when Biss turns the conversation to herself. The birth of her child is especially important to this book; she tells stories about his early childhood shots and wonders how his birth might've made her more inclined toward fears she otherwise wouldn't have had, thus pulling herself in and looking at herself with the same honesty as she looks at anyone else. She, in short, recognizes herself as part of a fearful culture and uses this position to better and more empathetically analyze it. In short, not exactly your standard history book: it's honest and even-handed and gets the brain working.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about On Immunity: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, July 2, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |