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In this 1 minute book review, discover an Elegant Defense of the Immune System through an Extraordinary New Science.

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives – by Matt Richtel

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In a way, Richtel got the best and worst of the publication date lottery. This book, which he’d obviously been working on for however long, was published in March 2020. Yes, that March 2020. So, it obviously got a huge boost in sales that launced it to bestseller status, and/but it doesn’t actually discuss COVID at all.

What it does discuss, is—as one might expect—the immune system. Or really, the immune systems, plural, several systems working alongside each other. How we got to have such, how our immune functions work, where all the various immune cells come from and what part they play. What pathogens can do to fight and/or confuse (or even co-opt) our immune response, and what modern medicine can do to counteract the pathogens’ anti-countermeasure countermeasures. And how it can still go wrong.

The “Four Lives” promised in the subtitle are stories, and Richtel explains the immune system through specific people’s specific battles. In particular, a friend of his who had quite a remarkable battle against cancer, which was of course terrible for him, but illustrative for us.

The style of the book is very readably journalistic. The author is a Pulitzer-winning NYT journalist, and not normally a science writer. Here at 10almonds, “we like big bibliographies and we cannot lie”, and we didn’t get to enjoy that in this case. The book contained no bibliography (nor appropriate inline citations, nor equivalent footnotes). Maybe a future addition will include this.

Bottom line: there’s a lot of “science for the lay reader” here. While the lack of references is a big oversight, the book does give a very good overview of what both sides (immune response and pathogenic invasion) bring to the battle of your body.

Click here to check out Elegant Defense, and demystify immunology!

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