On Immunity Book Summary - On Immunity Book explained in key points
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On Immunity summary

Eula Biss

An Inoculation

3.2 (52 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

On Immunity by Eula Biss explores the history and science of vaccines, analyzing the social and cultural factors that affect our attitudes towards immunization. It argues that vaccinating is not only an individual but also a communal responsibility.

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    On Immunity
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    Ancient stories are full of parents trying and failing to keep their children safe – or mistakenly harming them.

    Among the overwhelming number of factors to sift through, how can you know what’s best for your child? In fact, although vaccination is one polarising topic among parents today, the debate on what’s best for our children is ancient.

    Even thousands of years ago, there are stories about parents trying and failing to keep their children safe.

    Take the well-known myth about the goddess Thetis. After hearing a prophecy that her son Achilles will die young, she does everything she can to help him avoid his fate. She dips infant Achilles into the underworld river Styx to make him invulnerable. As she takes him by the ankles to do this, Achilles’ heels are the only part that the water does not touch. To further protect her child, she also asks the god of fire to create a magical shield for him. However, Achilles dies when an arrow pierces his heel –  the only part of him that remains vulnerable.

    Another myth is the story of the King of Argos and his daughter Danae. He imprisons her in a bronze tower to ensure she stays a virgin. But this doesn’t stop the powerful Zeus, who disguises himself as gold rain and impregnates Danae.

    In fairy tales, too, parents unwittingly endanger their children. Most of these parents want to shield their children, but they are fooled into actions that instead hurt them.

    For example, in The Girl Without Hands, to bring his family out of poverty, a miller makes a deal with the devil and exchanges everything that lies behind his mill for riches. Later he discovers, to his horror, that his daughter was standing just behind the mill.

    When it comes to vaccinations, modern parents can relate to these narratives: they hope vaccination will keep their children safe, but fear their choice might prove to be harmful.


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    What is On Immunity about?

    Being afraid that vaccinating our children creates more harm than good isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s a fear informed by numerous cultural narratives. On Immunity looks at the different historical myths and metaphors in the vaccination debate, and presents statistics on vaccination’s effects.

    On Immunity Review

    On Immunity (2014) by Eula Biss delves into the complex world of vaccines and the reasons behind vaccine hesitancy. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Explores the topic of vaccination with depth and nuance, providing a comprehensive look at the history, science, and social implications surrounding vaccines.
    • Offers insightful perspectives from a range of sources, including medical professionals, philosophers, and the author's own reflections, making it a thought-provoking read.
    • Effectively addresses common concerns and misconceptions about vaccines, employing clear and rational arguments to debunk myths and promote informed decision-making.

    Best quote from On Immunity

    Immunity is a myth, these stories suggest, and no mortal can ever be made invulnerable.

    —Eula Biss
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    Who should read On Immunity?

    • Parents who are unsure whether or not to vaccinate their child
    • Anyone who is interested in the cultural history of vaccination
    • Anyone who’s heard Jenny McCarthy say that vaccinations are dangerous

    About the Author

    Eula Biss is a non-fiction writer. She has won various awards such as the Rona Jaffe Writers' Award, the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, and the Pushcart Prize. She is a fellow of the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

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    On Immunity FAQs 

    What is the main message of On Immunity?

    On Immunity explores the complex world of vaccines and immunity, while raising important questions about public health and personal choice.

    How long does it take to read On Immunity?

    The reading time for On Immunity varies, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is On Immunity a good book? Is it worth reading?

    On Immunity is an enlightening and thought-provoking book. It offers a fresh perspective on vaccines and their cultural significance.

    Who is the author of On Immunity?

    Eula Biss is the author of On Immunity.

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