cover image An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System

Matt Richtel. Morrow, $28.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-269853-7

New York Times reporter Richtel (A Deadly Wandering) takes on “one of the world’s most complex organic systems” in this entertaining survey of the science of immunology. In punchy prose (“Picture a festival—a wide-open, take-all-comers bash. This is life inside your body”), Richtel covers the history of research into the field, including Jacques Miller’s thymectomies on mice in the 1950s and ’60s, which led to the discovery of T cells, a key immune system component; Peter Doherty’s more recent work on the major histocompatibility complex or MHC, “the single most varied or polymorphic of all human genes”; and, in the ’90s, the contributions of multiple scientists to HIV research. He also provides close-ups on the case histories of four people, including two women suffering from autoimmune disorders, interwoven through discussions of myriad present-day concerns: the recent spike in allergies in children; the dangers of overprescribed antibiotics; the problems that modern, antiseptic, and stress-filled lifestyles pose for the immune system; and the growing importance of monoclonal antibody therapeutics. In the course of examining “the broader environment surrounding our immune systems,” Richtel creates a hard-to-put-down account of the body’s first line of defense. Agent: Laurie Liss, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Mar.)