On Immunity | The Know It All {Audiobook Review}

Posted 22 April, 2015 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 21 Comments

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Hi Guys! I started this post off with some mini-thoughts on several audiobooks, but then ended up having more to say than I thought I did. I’ve been listened and reading a lot of good books lately, but sometimes I find that when I’m done with them I don’t have a ton to say. Or too much time passes and I forget what I want to say. But here are some sorta quick thoughts on two recent audiobooks.


On Immunity - Eula BissTitle: On Immunity
Author: Eula Biss
Narrator: Tamara Marston
Published: 2014; Pages: 205
Audio Duration: 6 hrs, 23 min
Genre: Nonfiction (Science)
Rating: More fascinated by the “Notes” section

On Amazon | On Indiebound | On Goodreads | On Audible

In Short: After becoming a new mother, Biss seeks to learn all she can about the vaccinations her son will receive.

Thoughts in General: This is such a hot topic in parenting groups and Biss makes no qualms about specifically addressing her book to mothers of young children. She is clearly pro-vaccination and while she doesn’t necessarily try to sway her readers in one direction or another, her preference is very clear. For the record, I am pro-vaccination and many of my beliefs are in-line with Biss’s. I discovered recently that some friends assumed I was an anti-vaxxer. Is this because I’m a blogger? I didn’t ask specifics.

Couple of things that really struck me while listening to On Immunity–privilege is so prevalent in Biss’s story and her researched information. It was tough to ignore her financially successful white woman stance. Second, I had hoped that there would be a little bit more science and history involved in the book. She discussed a lot of the cultural movements throughout time and did discuss some history, but a lot of this was left to the Notes section. The Notes actually answered a lot of the questions I had while listening but I would have loved more detail in the actual bulk of the book.

Bottom Line: On Immunity was a worthwhile listen for me, especially as it was so short, but it didn’t provide me with quite what I was looking for. I did learn that “vac” is derivative of cow in latin–one of the first inoculations was against cowpox in the 1700s.

Notes on the Audio: I’m glad I listened to On Immunity, though I did have to speed up Marston’s slow narration. On a quicker speed, she was well paced and her soft-spokenness reflected the matronly image I have of Eula Biss.


Know it all - AJ Jacobs

Title: The Know-it-All
Author: AJ Jacobs
Narrator: Geoffrey Cantor
Published: 2004; Pages: 400
Audio Duration: 15 hrs, 24 min
Genre: Nonfiction (Narrative/Random)
Rating: Information Overload

On Amazon | On Goodreads | On Audible

In Short: “One man’s humble quest to become the smartest person in the world” by reading the Encyclopedia Britannica A-Z.

Thoughts in General: I would call The Know-it-All part memoir and part narrative nonfiction. Each chapter/section focuses on a letter of the alphabet (though some letters are combined), and Jacobs provides the random things he learned in each of the letters. And when I mean random, I mean random. Did you know that strawberries aren’t really berries? But bananas are? I know, right? In the end, my own retention of the things Jacob discussed wasn’t very high. There was just so much information.

Throughout his mission to read the entire Encyclopedia, Jacobs also discusses how learning and knowledge have played a role in his life and how he was affected by reading through the entire volume of books. Let’s just say, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. It was a very entertaining and quirky journey and I love learning about random bits and bobs. A small qualm–throughout the book Jacobs freely discusses his wife’s infertility. All ends happily in the end, but I having gone through my own struggles with miscarriage and pregnancy, I couldn’t help but feel very uncomfortable by how opening Jacobs discussed his wife’s reproductive troubles. I’m guessing she allowed him the full disclosure.

Bottom Line: The Know-it-All was a very fun listen, but by the end I couldn’t have care less about approximately Q-Z. Maybe even K-Z.

Notes on the Audio: Especially good on audio! As is common for me, I did speed up the narration a bit (maybe 1.5 for this one), but I loved the conversational tone of Geoffrey Cantor and his style made this book very easy to listen to.

What awesome nonfiction audiobooks have you listened to lately? Have you listened to either of these yet?


21 Responses to “On Immunity | The Know It All {Audiobook Review}”

  1. Kay

    I find the whole vaccination issue kind of fascinating. When my girl was young, I don’t ever remember anyone even questioning whether to vaccinate. You just did. One thing that is different is that there are so many more vaccinations at this point. Or I think so. Anyway, I am pro as well. As is my girl, the nurse. I might listen to the book at some point. I’m not really so interested in the other book for some reason. I can’t even imagine reading an encyclopedia cover to cover.

  2. I think the type of book Jacobs writes is considered a stunt memoir. I have one or two of his books here and really want to try one.

    When Vance was small everyone vaccinated. I’m rather glad I didn’t have to think about it much.

  3. I’ve heard really good things about On Immunity and I am hoping to pick it up someday. I imagine, as an author, it’s tough to gauge just how much science and research your readers are willing to read. You want the book to be informative but not bogged down by facts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Very interesting to read your thoughts on both books. I also wondered about how much science was in On Immunity. The vaccination debate is everywhere! Here in Canada, a judge recently ruled that a child had to be vaccinated even though the mother was anti-vaxx. The father had joint custody and was pro-vaxx. I just picked up a copy of The Know It All at the library for $1. I love Jon Stewart’s blurb where he goes : “I’ve always said, why doesn’t someone put out a less complete version of the encyclopedia?”

  5. I agree towards the end of the Know-it-All it can get a bit “too much” info, but I have such a great time every time I read on of his books. I’ve been curious about “On Immunity” and with your review I might give it a try on audio. It’s interesting that some people assumed you would be anti vaccines; I personally never thought about it, but thinking about your posts and our conversations I would immediately think you are pro vaccination. I’m glad you ended up enjoying both books!

  6. Interestingly, I didn’t get a sense of blind privilege from Biss’s book at all. I found her very thoughtful and nuanced, especially when it came to talking about the reasons people don’t want to vaccinate, from the very upper class idea of “well, WE’RE healthy, and that’s all that matters” to the fear in communities of color created by the government’s well documented history of treating them like lab rats (i.e. Tuskeegee).

    As for the lack of hard science, I was originally shocked by the book I found on the shelf at Powell’s because it’s so small! I was definitely expecting more of a tome. I wound up loving the book for what it is, though. So much more literary and meditative than I anticipated, and I thought it worked really well.

  7. I haven’t listened to any nonfic audiobooks in awhile. I did just get Winston Churchill’s WW2 cuz it was free? cheap? I needed something and now may never ever get to it. I just got a copy of HArold Fry and am going to listen for a reread.

  8. Even though I don’t have kids, I have pretty strong feelings about vaccinations (definitely pro) so I think I’d find this book useful. I had a conversation the other day with a coworker where she was basically saying that vaccinations scare her but she has no idea why – as in, she’s read one or two sentences online saying that it’s linked to autism and she’s instantly “scared” – and I think this book would give me some facts and additional ammo to add to the conversation I had with her.

  9. On Immunity sounds interesting (especially since it sounds like mine and Bliss’s opinions line up). I’m very pro-vax after listening to my grandmother talk about her pre-vaccination childhood. I’m not risking my children having polio or any of the other preventable diseases because of anecdotal evidence and a discredited study. But that’s another rant! Know It All sounds interesting but I can see how it could be a little much – especially towards the end. Two more for my audio list!

  10. I don’t know if I could read On Immunity because if there is even a hint of anti-vax, I might lose my mind. If you’d like a light-hearted doctor’s take on vaccines, you might like the vaccine episode from Sawbones podcast.

  11. I didn’t know that about bananas. My coworker who is allergic to berries but not bananas thinks I’m lying to her when I mentioned it to her. :-)

    I’ve been curious about On Immunity. I am pro-vaccination too, although I don’t think anyone I know would be surprised by that. It’s funny that people assume you are not. I know a few bloggers who aren’t, but I can’t say I knew which way you stood on it.

  12. I read The Know it All years ago, and I absolutely loved it. I could relate to much of what Jacobs was feeling at the beginning of the book. If I re-read this, I may have to listen to it. I’ve been jumping on the audio bandwagon lately.

  13. I recently read Jacob’s book Drop Dead Healthy. I would have preferred a little more serious take on the subject. I think I would have enjoyed Know it All more and may pick it up one of these days.

  14. I totally agree with you on The Know-It-All. It’s hilarious, but toward the end it became tiring. I’ve read a previous book by Bliss before so I will definitely pick up On Immunity sometime. I can’t listen to nonfiction books on audio because I’m always wanting to take notes. :-)

  15. I actually LOVED the audio performance of this — no speed-up needed for me. BUT I totally agree about the notes. In fact, if one could have read the notes at the appropriate places in the text, I think the book overall would have been more successful. It’s a book best read in print.

    Know-It-All: I wasn’t even interested enough to give it a chance. Bad me.

  16. I was hoping for more hard science from On Immunity. The book was good enough, but by the time I got to the notes section I’d had enough. Need to go back and listen to those notes now… and write a review ;-)