“A deeply reported and entertainingly written exploration of the human immune system and how it works.” —USA Today
National Bestseller * Essential reading during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
The Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist "explicates for the lay reader the intricate biology of our immune system" (Jerome Groopman, MD, New York Review of Books)
New York Times science reporter Matt Richtel's An Elegant Defense illuminates the human immune system as never before, uniquely entwining intimate patient stories with science’s centuries-long quest to unlock the mysteries of sickness and health.
The immune system is our body’s essential defense network, a guardian vigilantly fighting viruses and illness, healing wounds, maintaining order and balance, and keeping us alive. Its legion of microscopic foot soldiers—from T cells to “natural killers”—patrols our body, linked by a nearly instantaneous communications grid. It has been honed by evolution over millennia to face an almost infinite array of threats.
For all its astonishing complexity, however, the immune system can be easily compromised by fatigue, stress, toxins, advanced age, and poor nutrition—hallmarks of modern life—and even by excessive hygiene. Paradoxically, it is a fragile wonder weapon that can turn on our own bodies with startling results, leading today to epidemic levels of autoimmune disorders.
Richtel effortlessly guides readers on a scientific detective tale winding from the Black Plague to twentieth-century breakthroughs in vaccination and antibiotics, to the cutting-edge laboratories that are revolutionizing immunology—perhaps the most extraordinary and consequential medical story of our time. The foundation that Richtel builds makes accessible revelations about cancer immunotherapy, the microbiome, and autoimmune treatments that are changing millions of lives. An Elegant Defense also captures in vivid detail how these powerful therapies, along with our behavior and environment, interact with the immune system, often for the good but always on a razor’s edge that can throw this remarkable system out of balance.
Drawing on his groundbreaking reporting for the New York Times and based on extensive new interviews with dozens of world-renowned scientists (including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), Matt Richtel has produced a landmark book, equally an investigation into the deepest riddles of survival and a profoundly human tale that is movingly brought to life through the eyes of his four main characters, each of whom illuminates an essential facet of our “elegant defense.”
Matt Richtel is a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter and bestselling nonfiction and mystery author. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Meredith, a neurologist, and their two children. In his spare time, he plays tennis and piano and writes (not very good) songs. Visit him online at www.mattrichtel.wordpress.com.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xvii
Part I Lives in the Balance
1 The Ties That Bind 3
2 Jason 13
3 Bob 23
4 Linda and Merredith 26
Part II The Immune System and the Festival of Life
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