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On immunity : an inoculation.

by Eula Biss

Publishers Weekly Biss (Notes from No Man's Land) advocates eloquently for childhood immunization, making her case as an anxious new mother intent on protecting her son-and understanding the consequences. Her exploration is both historical and emotional, and she receives some metaphorical guidance from Bram Stoker's Dracula, a story that to Biss invites an "enduring question-do we believe vaccination to be more monstrous than disease?" Her son's birth coincided with an outbreak of the H1N1 flu (popularly known as "swine flu"), triggering an inquiry that involved her doctor father, other mothers, researchers, and her own copious research. Biss's study ranges from the beginnings of vaccination-a "precursor to modern medicine"-in the 1700s, through Andrew Wakefield's disastrous, and later retracted, 1998 study that proposed the MMR vaccine might be linked to autism. Protecting her baby set off an "intuitive toxicology," Biss writes, but grew to understand that we harbor "more microorganisms in our guts than we have cells in our bodies." She comes down hard on Robert Sears, author of The Vaccine Book, which suggests an alternate shots schedule, for his "equivocal" conclusions, and defends oft-criticized pediatrician Paul Offit for his research and integrity. Biss frankly and optimistically looks at our "unkempt" world and our shared mission to protect one another. Agent: Matt McGowan, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Book list *Starred Review* In her elegant, book-length essay, Biss (Notes from No Man's Land, 2009) inoculates readers against the misinformation and paranoia surrounding vaccinations. The daughter of a doctor and the mother of a young son who is fully vaccinated, Biss carefully measures current knowledge of disease along with what remains unknown about immunization. She concludes that the benefit of vaccination to individuals and communities is much greater than any harm. Yet some people view immunization as a violent act, an attack on bodily purity. Biss writes, A needle breaks the skin, a sight so profound that it causes some people to faint, and a foreign substance is injected directly into the flesh. The metaphors we find in this gesture are overwhelmingly fearful, and almost always suggest violation, corruption, and pollution. Indeed, vaccinations are dubbed shots. Her far-reaching and unusual investigation into immunity includes a discussion of the chemicals thimerosal and triclosan, Dracula, measles and smallpox, the hygiene hypothesis, herd immunity, Achilles and Voltaire, altruism, and the appeal of alternative medicine. Artfully mixing motherhood, myth, maladies, and metaphors into her presentation, Biss transcends medical science and trepidation.--Miksanek, Tony Copyright 2014 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Choice The thread that forms this book's narrative deals with Biss (artist in residence, Northwestern Univ.; Notes from No Man's Land, 2009) deciding whether or not her son should be vaccinated at generally prescribed times. Her prose and imagery make easy reading; it is obvious that she is a good storyteller. On this basis, however, a better descriptive title for the book would be "On Vaccination," rather than On Immunity, which suggests a scientific tone. The short chapters relate a variety of subjects to vaccination. Readers meet Achilles, Dracula, Narcissus, Kierkegaard, Voltaire, Karl Marx, Rachel Carson, and Susan Sontag, along with numerous others identified as "the immunologist," "the philosopher of science," "the literary critic," etc. In addition, the author covers such wide-ranging topics as diversity, tolerance, capitalism, DDT, thimerosal, and AIDS. Notes, mostly lengthy, occupy 21 pages; the book also includes a list of selected sources. Mythology appears to be a mild obsession with Biss. Though the author is not a scientist, a pretense of science pervades the text. A firm conclusion is lacking, giving no direction to what one should learn from the reading. There are no new insights. Summing Up: Optional. General readers. --Richard S. Kowalczyk, formerly, University of Michigan

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

 

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