books

Review: On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

Full disclosure: I am firmly in the pro-vaccination camp; I think it is incredibly selfish and shortsighted, as well as dangerous, to refuse to vaccinate against illnesses that have known (i.e., documented and proven) effects ranging from disablement to death. The argument that certain diseases no longer exist therefore we do not need to vaccinate confounds me. How do people think diseases become extinct in the first place?

On to the book: I found this an interesting and well-researched overview of the history of, and philosophical arguments behind vaccination. To my mind, it was not critical enough of the anti-vaccination movement; Biss takes great pains to avoid criticizing the anti-vaxxers, instead couching much of her discourse in neutral language. I found this disappointing when the evidence against altered vaccination schedules or, at an extreme, a refusal to vaccinate has been so clear about the risks both individuals and the larger community face when vaccination numbers decline.

Still, this was a good starting point to learn about some of the issues surrounding the vaccination debate. Aside from my disappointment with Biss’ reluctance to be confrontational, my only real issue with this book was in the editing. First, that whomever was responsible for taking a fine-toothed comb to it didn’t reorganize some of the arguments. The book jumps from topic to topic and back again and could have used some more structure. Finally, I am not a huge fan of endnotes (as opposed to footnotes) in the first place, but when they are used without notations in the main text, they become doubly as frustrating (particularly when reading on an e-reader, which thankfully was not the case here).

All in all, On Immunity: An Inoculation was thought-provoking and interesting, but not quite what I expected.

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