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  • Writer's pictureDWM

Stayin' Alive

Immune by Philipp Dettmer

Bacteria, virus, cancer, parasites, allergy, asthma and autoimmune diseases - all challenge our survival. Against these unpleasant and often frightening conditions is one part of our bodies: the immune system. We all know of the system’s failures, but little of its many successes or of the system itself. Where is it? What are its parts? How do the parts work together? How is it controlled? How can it be strengthened?

Immune offers a current view of the immune system. It is dated 2021 and includes covid-19. This very broad review tells “what, where, and how” the system works without getting “lost in the weeds” of detail. Where questions remain, the gaps are acknowledged without ruining the general view. Also, Dettmer avoids detailed descriptions where he feels the complexity does not aid the overall understanding of the entire system. Balance and control of the system emerge as critical elements for desirable outcomes.

The book is long because the subject is huge. The material is accessible due to the useful illustrations and the informal tone. Frequent reviews of the most important points consolidate steps of understanding. The author frequently acknowledges that the material is complex and for various reasons difficult. Numerous examples, analogies, and excellent footnotes help a great deal. For me reading Immune was worth the struggle. Though I may not retain many of the details - neither will I forget major conclusions.

From the publisher:

You wake up and feel a tickle in your throat. Your head hurts. You’re mildly annoyed as you get the kids ready for school and dress for work yourself. Meanwhile, an epic war is being fought, just below your skin. Millions are fighting and dying for you to be able to complain as you head out the door.

But most of us never really stop to ask: What even is our immune system?

Second only to the human brain in its complexity, it is one of the oldest and most critical facets of life on Earth. Without it, you would die within days. In Immune, Philipp Dettmer, the brains behind the most popular science channel on YouTube, takes readers on a journey through the fortress of the human body and its defenses. There is a constant battle of staggering scale raging within us, full of stories of invasion, strategy, defeat, and noble self-sacrifice. In fact, in the time you’ve been reading this, your immune system has probably identified and eradicated a cancer cell that started to grow in your body.

Each chapter delves into an element of the immune system, including defenses like antibodies and inflammation as well as threats like bacteria, allergies, and cancer, as Dettmer reveals why boosting your immune system is actually nonsense, how parasites sneak their way past your body’s defenses, how viruses work, and what goes on in your wounds when you cut yourself.

Enlivened by engaging full-color graphics and immersive descriptions, Immune turns one of the most intricate, interconnected, and confusing subjects—immunology—into a gripping adventure through an astonishing alien landscape. Immune is a vital and remarkably fun crash course in what is arguably, and increasingly, the most important system in the body.

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