Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive is a beautifully illustrated book that aims to make a complex system clear and accessible for a reader who is pretty much new to the topic (maybe you’ve got a GCSE in biology or something, but that was a long time ago). It’s chatty and informal and uses a lot of analogies to make things simple to remember, and it’s often irreverent. (At one point it compares the shape of antibodies to crabs, and then refers to their “butts”, leading to this immortal phrase: “The pincers are for enemies, the cute butts for friends.”)
The author is clearly absolutely bowled over by the beautiful dance that is the human immune system, the various clever ways it protects us and regulates itself, and that shines through in pretty much every chapter. He’s explaining things and being really clear and going into detail because he wants you to see how gorgeous it all is.
Now I already appreciated that (everyone close to me flashes back to my impassioned glee about the membrane attack complex), so it wasn’t new to me — but still, his enthusiasm made me smile. It’s not bad as a revision session for me either, and even though I’ve studied human biology and infectious diseases quite a bit, there were still one or two surprises for me. Just wait until you get to the bit about NETs. Wow.
Throughout, he mentions the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and how some of this information applies to that; it’s not a book about the pandemic, but it can definitely help you understand the pandemic. It also explains why vaccination works, and why there’s no meaningful difference between “natural” immunity and that gained through vaccination — your cells go through exactly the same process. It’s all pretty great, and I’d recommend it to people at all levels of ability. It’s also just beautiful, with a ton of diagrams that make things really clear.