On Immunity by Eula Biss

On Immunity high res

On becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear—fear of the government, the medical establishment, 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, 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.



“Eula Biss sanely takes on the anti-vaccine mob.”—Vanity Fair

“Biss infuses her in-depth study on why we as a society fear vaccines with her own experiences with raising a child. She cites literary greats (Sontag, Stoker, Voltaire) on the topic of immunization, connecting literary history with our deep-rooted avoidance of protective shots.”—The Huffington Post, Best Books for Fall 2014

“With beautiful writing and a firm grounding in literature, class, and medicine, [Biss] successfully wrenches a divisive and surprisingly nuanced topic away from our loudest, dumbest voices. (Spoiler: She supports vaccination.) You’ll never look at swine flu, childbirth, or vampires in the same way again.”—Vulture, “8 Books You Need to Read This September”

“A brilliant and empathetic exploration of the vaccine wars, at once entertaining and useful, for parents or anyone else seeking a more complex understanding of immunology and vaccines. Biss’s respectful argument for continued childhood inoculation makes her book—full of scintillating narratives, riveting bits of history, and touching memoirs that can be relished for their own sake—one that all vaccine skeptics should read.”—The American Scholar

“[A] far-reaching and unusual investigation into immunity. . . . Artfully mixing motherhood, myth, maladies, and metaphors into her presentation, Biss transcends medical science and trepidation.”—Booklist, starred review


Publisher Information

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (September 30, 2014)
  • Price: $24.00
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555976897



BissEula Biss holds a BA in nonfiction writing from Hampshire College and an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. Her second book, Notes from No Man’s Land, received the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. Her work has also been recognized by a Pushcart Prize, a Jaffe Writers’ Award, and a 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library. She teaches writing at Northwestern University and is working on a new book about myth and metaphor in medicine with the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Howard Foundation Fellowship. Her essays have recently appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Best Creative Nonfiction and the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Nonfiction as well as in the Believer, Gulf Coast, Columbia, Ninth Letter, North American Review, Bellingham Review, Seneca Review, and Harper’s.


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Eckleburg is a print and online literary journal that offers original fiction, poetry, essays, music, art, writing workshops and more.