New Book Looks at a Different Side of the Human Immune System


In his new book, An Elegant Defense, Matt Richtel discusses the complex work of the human immune system and its wide-ranging functions. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist delves into the history of immunology and packs many examples and case studies in this informative book.

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Not Just an Army

Very often, the human immune system is seen as a war machine with the singular responsibility of fighting off invasions by foreign organisms. When bacteria, viruses, or other pathogen enter the body through a range of channels, the human immune system must do everything it can to contain these and limit the damage caused. In An Elegant Defense, Richtel aims to paint a more holistic picture of the immune system and show that it has a softer and more elegant side beyond what most people think of.

He expands on the unique and important ability of the human immune system that allows it to determine whether unfamiliar organisms and substances in the body are harmful or not. He discusses the importance of balance in the human body and how the immune system is one of the keys to maintaining this. Its function is not only to fight foreign invaders but to evaluate any changes and do whatever is required to maintain balance and keep the peace, so to speak.

Richtel covers science and technology for the New York Times. His book goes deep into immunology history and technology but in a way that is not overwhelming for the reader. Readers are taken through a journey of experimental work and important discoveries such as immune cell observations in the 1800s and new research in immunotherapy treatment for cancer patients. He also zeros in on four case studies of people whose immune system functions have been particularly significant. These individuals battled Hodgkin’s disease, HIV, and over-active immune systems. Richtel also digs into modern behavior and ways that we sabotage our own immune systems such as getting too little sleep.

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