On Immunity: An Inoculation

“She advances from all sides, like a chess player, drawing on science, myth, literature… . What she seems to be suggesting is that knowledge isn’t an inoculation. It doesn’t happen just once. There are things that must be learned and learned again, seen first with the mind and felt later in the body.” [Link]

New York Times Book Review

“There are many wonderful, illuminating reflections in On Immunity: how vaccine refusal in Pakistan and Nigeria can be understood as a legitimate form of anti-colonial resistance; how capitalism has inadvertently limited our imaginations by making us blame it for everything; how metaphors of the body at ‘war’ with bacteria are misleading, and ‘war’ should be left to warmongers.” [Link]

Guardian

“This elegant, intelligent and very beautiful book… is elliptical, elusive, neither collection nor narrative exactly but more a set of questions about how we frame our interactions with the world.” [Link]

Los Angeles Times

“The power of Biss’s book stems, in the end, from its subtle insistence on the interrelationship of things—of the mythological and the medical, the private and the public, the natural and the unnatural—and on the idea that one’s relationship with disease and immunity is not distinct from one’s relationship with the world.” [Link]

Slate

“On Immunity might be classified as a work of deep ecology. It sees, for example, the body as a garden, the immune ‘system’ as a tidal ebb and flow, and immunity as inseparable from community.” [Link]

The Rumpus

“Biss’s project, it turns out, is far grander than a simple explanation of the facts…. On Immunity is as much a book about trust as it is a book about vaccines.” [Link]

The Millions

“A multilayered investigation of fear and perception.” [Link]

Time Out New York

“On Immunity rejects the metaphors of acquisition and contamination for a microcosmic communism: ‘We owe each other our bodies.’ What else might we reinvent with that new language?” [Link]

Hazlitt

“In an impeccably researched book that spans centuries, continents and cultures, ultimately Biss is asking: What do we do with our fear — of our government, of others, of sickness, of our own bodies? She uses stirring language that leaves the reader unsettled, unsure of where the individual ends and the community begins.”

Kansas City Star

“On Immunity is a history, a personal narrative, ultimately a powerful argument that reads, the whole time, like a poem.”

Guernica

“With bureaucratic hurdles delaying Ebola treatments, this book seems especially timely. But the scope of Biss’s argument and the grace of her prose make it timeless.” [Link]

Maclean's

“Deftly interweaving personal history, cultural analysis, science journalism, and literary criticism, On Immunity investigates vaccinations from many angles—as the mechanism that protects us from disease, a metaphor for our wish for invulnerability, and a class-based privilege… . [Biss] has been compared to Joan Didion, and the reasons are obvious here. Like Didion she has a gift for coming at her subjects from all sides, in unsentimental, lyrical prose.”

Bookforum

“Here's the biggest twist: On Immunity is not actually about vaccination. This is a deeply philosophical book, one that’s less concerned with pure science than with the elemental fear that we can never protect our children from the world.” [Link]

Entertainment Weekly

“On Immunity casts a spell…. There’s drama in watching this smart writer feel her way through this material. She’s a poet, an essayist and a class spy. She reveals herself as believer and apostate, moth and flame.”

New York Times

“Biss, whose first book was the splendid 2009 essay collection Notes from No Man’s Land, specializes in radical empathy.” [Link]

New Republic

“Her mind is everywhere at once, and her conclusions are subtle, deeply felt, and convincing.” [Link]

Fiction Advocate

“[Biss] brings a sober, erudite, and humane voice to an often overheated debate.” [Link]

The New Yorker

“A brilliant and empathic 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.”

American Scholar

“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

“Biss wants to move beyond polarizing, two-sided battles — specifically, battles over vaccination — where the contestants try to bring their opponents over to their side, and instead think of argument as a careful weighing of evidence, a moving forward with an open mind, an attempt to find new ways of seeing the old ideas. Her book embodies this definition of argument in its thoughtfulness and its careful consideration of what makes people believe what they do.” [Link]

Full Stop

“Using vaccines as a metaphor for our fears, Biss writes a series of short, interconnected essays to highlight how—well, how very interconnected our fears, hopes, and bodies are. It is an argument for a very un-American view of science. It asks us to believe in myths, and it asks us to look at the preservation of an entire community instead of the individual.” [Link]

Christianity Today

“She understands the marrow-deep desire people have to protect their children, whatever the risks and costs, and this empathy (more than the book’s research) is Biss’s triumph, and what makes her voice so important in the nationwide debate for or against vaccinations.“ [Link]

The Brooklyn Rail

“On Immunity is as much a meditation about community in an era of increasing privatization, as it is a sweeping synthesis of scientific research.” [Link]

Feministing

“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.”

Booklist, Starred Review

“Brightly informative, giving readers a sturdy platform from which to conduct their own research and take personal responsibility.” [Link]

Kirkus, Starred Review

“Biss frankly and optimistically looks at our ‘unkempt’ world and our shared mission to protect one another.” [Link]

Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

Notes From No Man's Land: American Essays

“Eula Biss' Notes From No Man's Land is the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the 21st century.” [Link]

Salon

“This book is a beautiful exercise in consciousness; in bringing both intelligence and experience to bear on a subject that has implications for the way one behaves in the world.”

Los Angeles Times

“Biss’s pairings of ideas, like those of most original thinkers, have the knack of seeming brilliant and obvious at the same time. The book’s first essay, ‘Time and Distance Overcome,’ intersperses brief fragments on the creation of our country’s network of telephone poles with the history of another American innovation: lynching.” [Link]

NPR

“Biss moves through language like a spider spinning a web, delicately linking telephone poles and lynch mobs, Laura Ingalls Wilder's ‘Little House’ books and Biss’s own Rogers Park neighborhood. Biss writes like a poet, evoking images with a cool passion, and she plays with ideas on the page and challenges readers to work out their own rhythms.” [Link]

Chicago Tribune

“Biss is up to something else, something wonderfully mature, intelligent, and new. In these essays, Biss reexamines not only her own history but that of her country, revealing in both delicate, poetic prose and blunt, necessarily emotionless journalism the truths, both painful and triumphant, of the American experiment.” [Link]

American Book Review

“Biss calls our attention to things so intrinsic to our lives they have become invisible, such as telephone poles and our assumptions about race…. With nods to Didion and Baldwin, her sinuous essays dart off and zigzag, and we hold on tight. Biss compares the lesson plans for freed slaves in Reconstruction-era public schools with what is taught to today's African American students, and chronicles her experiences as a minority in black worlds, including her stint as a reporter for an African American community newspaper in San Diego. Matters of race, sense of self, and belonging involve everyone, and Biss' crossing-the-line perspective will provoke fresh analysis of our fears and expectations.”

Booklist, Starred Review

“An intense, sensitive author and journalist with a restless spirit and a whip-crack wit, Biss (The Balloonists) presents a collection of short essays on race in America that spans an impressive range, beginning with a gripping narrative connecting the history of the telephone pole with the history of lynching. As her stories progress, Biss extrapolates a great deal about America's complicated racial attitudes from her own experience—teaching in Harlem, living in a diverse Chicago neighborhood, watching the long, sad saga of Hurricane Katrina from Iowa. The result is a personal, opinionated and accessible collection; Americans of any background, while they may disagree with her point of view, will see a country they recognize in settings as diverse as deepest Brooklyn or a Mexican border retreat.” [Link]

Publishers Weekly

“The concluding essay in the collection is called ‘All Apologies.’ It’s a series of apologies (and non-apologies) issued throughout history…. At the end of the essay, Biss writes, ‘I apologize for slavery.’ It’s less an admission of wrongdoing than a classic apologia—a formal defense, and implicit examination, of her own conduct, which is what underpins this entire book. The reader is once again reminded of those telephone poles at the turn of the twentieth century, which served as both gallows and technological thruway. That nexus implicates all of us, and Biss puts it in plain view: for a moment, at least, we see even what is unseen.” [Link]

Columbia Journalism Review

“Biss’s examination of America’s complicated racial heritage offers penetrating insight. In ‘Back to Buxton,’ she contrasts the supposedly progressive university in Iowa City, where white and black students rarely cross paths, with the early-20th-century hamlet of Buxton, a small, Jim Crow–era town that functioned, briefly, as a desegregated utopia…. 'Is this Kansas?,' in particular, raises some troubling questions about the way the young are trained to view tragedies like Katrina—often through the harsh lens of racial stereotypes. Telephone poles may be on their way out, but at moments like these, Biss still encourages us to reach out and connect.” [Link]

Time Out New York

“Biss’s undertaking, then, is to lead us into no man’s land by uncovering how we’re already there. Drawing upon stories from the media, historical records, sociological research, and her own keenly observed experiences, she demonstrates how the legacy of racism has left the U.S. a kind of disputed ground, a place of confusion where whites and blacks may find belonging within their own racial groups but struggle to belong together as Americans.”

The Literary Review

“I can hardly speak of this book, honestly: it’s heartrendingly amazing and so completely/complexly itself that the idea of trying to encapsulate it’s laughable. What it is, for sure, is this: it’s Eula Biss wondering about and poring over and looping back on/through ideas about race and self and home and America. I know that that process—someone at the wheel, driving into the big dark map of self/race/America—is only fully magnificent in the hands/words of a few artists, but let’s here be totally clear that Eula Biss is one of those artists, someone whose work, if made mandatory consumption for the country, would enrich and enlarge each of us to a point of fullness that’s almost scary.” [Link]

Corduroy Books

“Biss’s essays read like constellations; she sets her stars in place to refract a picture far brighter than any individual star. But Biss’s most successful accomplishment isn’t her framework, but her ability to transition from the innocent to the reproachable without revealing the intricacies of her sleight of hand.”

Pleiades

“Blending contemporary racial theory with historical examples such as the 1939 Clark ‘doll studies’ (which revealed the disheartening ethnic biases of young children), Biss displays an impressive depth of knowledge as well as feeling.”

Prairie Schooner

The Balloonists

“Laced with a simplicity as lucid as it is sincere, as much a meditation on marriage as it is on memory, Eula Biss’s The Balloonists weaves a tapestry of multiple narratives, collective family memories and stunningly rendered moments with impressive concinnity into an intriguing and oftentimes luminous first book.”

Slope


 “In the morally dubious, aesthetically risky, kind of great prelude, Biss crosscuts black-box transcripts with sound-bites from family members concerning her mother’s own thwarted artistic ambitions. The brief, intimate impressions that follow read like carefully selected diary entries; something like Renata Adler cool-neon fragments, as melancholy as they are wry.”

The Believer


 “Biss’s slender debut collection is as spare as a Japanese watercolor. Her narrative prose poems limn, via a series of interwoven subjects and themes, the story of a family, complete with a cast of characters and time lines, a tale that, by extension, transcends into the universal.”

Booklist


“In a beautiful blending of narrative styles (dialogue, brief anecdotes and narrative theory) Biss navigates her narrative through complex relationships, re-mapping previously charted territory, however, with one important distinction—she offers no set destinations and no pre-drawn conclusions. Instead, The Balloonists is a continuation of life’s ‘unresolved arguments.’”

Double Room


 “Biss particularly succeeds in examining the similarities between fictional narrative and autobiography, how the stories we call our lives are, in fact, a form of fiction, and how we can unwittingly find ourselves living a story not our own. ‘What if an entire generation were to reject their central story line?’ she wonders. Her book’s ambiguity as to genre serves to keep the narrative on a tightrope, nimbly balancing itself between truth and fiction, while always calling into question the reality of both concepts.”

Rain Taxi