cover image A Silent Fire: The Story of Inflammation, Diet, and Disease

A Silent Fire: The Story of Inflammation, Diet, and Disease

Shilpa Ravella. Norton, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-54190-8

“Hidden inflammation, which once lived in the margins of medical literature, is far from benign, and uncovering it... has been a process as slow and sinuous as the disease itself,” writes gastroenterologist Ravella in her impassioned if disjointed debut. She defines inflammation as “our natural protection from harm in the context of immunity,” and writes that while the typical American diet—replete with processed foods—fosters an aberrant immune system, eating whole foods (those “closest to their natural state”) reduces systemic inflammation and helps fight disease and aging. “The immune system responds poorly to... substances in animal foods,” she writes, and the most crucial “anti-inflammatory nutrient” is fiber. Ravella begins her comprehensive history of diet and inflammation in 1845, with a vivid profile of doctor Rudolf Virchow, whose work in hospitals “laid the foundation for our modern understanding of inflammation.” She also outlines the work of surgeon John Harvey Kellogg, “one of the first physicians to tell patients that food played an important role in health.” But as the book progresses, Ravella’s writing gets more textbook-like, riddled with academic jargon and scientific terms. Though Ravella attempts to break up the science with personal anecdotes from her clinical practice, they feel too superficial to stick. This one doesn’t quite come together. (Oct.)