An Elegant Defense (Hardcover)
The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives
William Morrow, 9780062698537, 448pp.
Publication Date: March 12, 2019
Magnificently reported and soulfully crafted, An Elegant Defense is an epic, first-of-its-kind exploration of the human immune system and the secrets of health, by the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist
“One of those rare nonfiction books that transcends the genre. ... Fascinating and engrossing. ... I highly recommend this extraordinary book.” —DOUGLAS PRESTON
“Vividly told. ... Explicates for the lay reader the intricate biology of our immune system." —JEROME GROOPMAN, New York Review of Books
A terminal cancer patient rises from the grave. A medical marvel defies HIV. Two women with autoimmunity discover their own bodies have turned against them. Matt Richtel's An Elegant Defense uniquely entwines these intimate stories with science’s centuries-long quest to unlock the mysteries of sickness and health, and illuminates the immune system as never before.
The immune system is our body’s essential defense network, a guardian vigilantly fighting 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, 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.”
About the Author
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.
Praise For An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives…
— DOUGLAS PRESTON, #1 bestselling author of The Lost City of the Monkey God
“Deeply affecting. … A compelling modern history of—as well as an elegant defense for—the preeminent science of our time.”
— Los Angeles Review of Books
“Provocative. … Heart-wrenching. … Remarkable. … Richtel is a gifted storyteller. … A story about cutting-edge science, humanely told.”
— Matt McCarthy, USA Today
“Vividly told. ... Explicates for the lay reader the intricate biology of our immune system. ... Richtel succeeds in this formidable task.”
— JEROME GROOPMAN, New York Review of Books
“In this thorough investigation, Richtel details the explosion of knowledge over the past 70 years. ... He weaves into his narrative four case studies [that] add a moving personal dimension.”
— BBC, “10 Books to Read This Month”
“Matt Richtel’s An Elegant Defense is a comprehensive and engaging primer on the body’s ‘ever-vigilant, omnipresent peacekeeping force.’ The immune system plays an essential role in fighting infections and cancer and in regulating our normal health. Read this superb book to better understand one of the enduring mysteries of human biology.”
— SANDEEP JAUHAR, New York Times bestselling author of Heart: A History
“An expert examination of the immune system. … Richtel illuminates a complex subject so well that even physicians will learn.”
— Kirkus, STARRED review
“Richtel approaches this essential subject with awe, his writing meticulous and empathic.”
— Booklist, STARRED Review
“Award-winning reporter Matt Richtel examines the scientific and human realities of immune anomaly through four case studies. … Through these harrowing accounts, Richtel interweaves the research history.”
— Nature, “Best Science Picks”
“A deeply reported and entertainingly written exploration of the human immune system and how it works.”
— USA Today (”5 Books Not to Miss”)
“An engaging deep dive into our immune system.”
— Men’s Health
“A hard-to-put-down account of the body’s first line of defense.”
— Publishers Weekly