Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive - book cover
Diseases & Physical Ailments
  • Publisher : Random House
  • Published : 02 Nov 2021
  • Pages : 368
  • ISBN-10 : 0593241312
  • ISBN-13 : 9780593241318
  • Language : English

Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A gorgeously illustrated deep dive into the immune system that will forever change how you think about your body, from the creator of the popular science YouTube channel Kurzgesagt-In a Nutshell
"Through wonderful analogies and a genius for clarifying complex ideas, Immune is a truly brilliant introduction to the human body's vast system for fighting infections and other threats."-John Green, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars

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.

Editorial Reviews

"Immune is science communication at its most lucid and exhilarating, a tour de force of demystification. Dettmer maintains an intimate relationship with the reader while revealing the Homeric dramas that routinely unfold within us. It has a vivid clarity that never comes at the expense of the science-or the wonder, as if an entire scientific field had been translated into human."-Ann Druyan, author of Cosmos: Possible Worlds

"Philipp Dettmer has a unique skill to show us the beauty and complexity of our world as it is revealed through a scientific understanding of it. In Immune he takes us on a tour through our own body and allows us to see and understand how our immune system actually works. A beautiful book about a complex system that our life depends on."-Max Roser, founder of Our World in Data

"Immune reads like it's a riveting sci-fi novel, as Philipp Dettmer takes you on a journey into the body for an up-close look at the armies of expert warriors, rogue gladiators, and stealthy detectives that protect you in the daily war against trillions of ruthless microbe enemies. By the end of the book, I understood my entire body far better than I ever had before. Immune is a delightful treat for the curious."-Tim Urban, creator of Wait But Why

"Bringing both insight and humor to an important and relevant topic, Dettmer's book is essential reading, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic."-Library Journal

Readers Top Reviews

Julie Spencer 4Dsash
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an exceptional author and this particular story provides a taster and some insight into the authors style and awareness of his own surroundings. If you want a quick read with eye opening narration, then this is a book which you can read swiftly, once, twice, three times or more, and still enjoy the tale which unfolds. Highly recommended.
John Torrox
Written more like an official report than the oral folk tales more often produced by García Márquez, this shows his mastery of a different form, with an account of small town morals, and, almost like the classic Westerns, the failure of a whole community to stand up to potential killers.
Sandy MorleyWilburki
Something about the writing style is immimently gripping, and I couldn't tell you why, but I couldn't stop thinking about the book as I was falling asleep, each of the three nights that I'd been reading it. It seemed to be thought provoking, but what circular thoughts it provoked I couldn't say.
Very good book I was entertained while reading it greatly. I am a junior in high school, taking AP Spanish Literature and for a class assignment I had to read "Chronicle of a Death foretold" noble. This was the first time I read a book in spanish, I realize that most spanish authors use magical realism in order to make their stories interesting. I liked this book because it shows how the characters evolve all throughout the story. At the beginning it shows that every one is peaceful and that nothing ever happens in this town and then things start changing and people become angry and killers.The reason I really got interested in this story was because the author uses descriptive words to show how Santiago, one of the main characters, is killed. It is as if you can actually see if and it makes you imagine it. There is a scene in the book where you can actually feel like your watching what is happening, is when Santiago is being chazed by the killers and he wants to run in to his house to get saved, but the door shuts right in front of him causing him to get killed, this part makes you want to be there and open the door to save him while the killers are stabbing him.Another reason is that it relates to the things that arre happening in this world, the authors describes how curruptive the police is and how they sometimes do not take enough action in order to save people. He also describes how morals are not really that important to the people today. This book even though its describing a setting of a long time ago it uses things that today we can actually relate to."Chronicle of A Death Forehold" is a story that has no suspence because right since the beginning you know what will happen, but that is not what makes you keep reading, what keeps you reading is to know all the things that happen in just is question of hours.
Vladimir AntimonovGV
I read “Love in the Time of Cholera” by the same author while flying to Colombia (where the plots of both novels are set) nine years ago and I remember loving that book immensely. It took me nine years to get to another book by García Márquez and it happened to be “Chronicle of a death foretold”. As I was reading the book I was surprised by how similar these two books are: both are set in a laid-back, provincial towns somewhere in Colombia; both include couples who were either in love or engaged in their youth but then spent most of their lives apart only to be reunited in old age. Both describe carnal affairs in a very matter of fact way. But I did not find “Chronicle of a death” engaging. It’s a very short novel (110 pages) so I decided not to give up on it midway, but having read it I have no feeling of satisfaction of having read a good novel. “Love in a time of cholera” was written 4 years later than “Chronicle”, and I think it is the better one.

Short Excerpt Teaser


What Is the Immune System?

The story of the immune system begins with the story of life itself, almost 3.5 billion years ago, in some strange puddle on a hostile and vastly empty planet. We don't know what these first living beings did, or what their deal was, but we know they very soon started to be mean to each other. If you think life is hard because you need to get up early in the morning to get your kids ready for the day, or because your burger is only lukewarm, the first living cells on earth would like a word with you. As they figured out how to transform the chemistry around them into stuff they could use while also acquiring the energy needed to keep going, some of the first cells took a shortcut. Why bother with doing all the work yourself if you could just steal from someone else? Now, there were a number of different ways to do that, like swallowing someone else whole, or ripping holes into them and slurping out their insides. But this could be dangerous, and instead of getting a free meal, you could end up as the meal of your intended victim, especially if they were bigger and stronger than you. So another way to get the prize with less of the risk might be to just get inside them and make yourself comfortable. Eat what they eat and be protected by their warm embrace. Kind of beautiful, if it wasn't so horrible to the host.

As it became a valid strategy to become good at leeching from others, it became an evolutionary necessity to be able to defend yourself against the leeches. And so microorganisms competed and fought each other with the weapons of equals for the next 2.9 billion years. If you had a time machine and went back to marvel at the wonders of this competition, you would be pretty bored, as there was nothing big enough to see other than a few faint films of bacteria on some wet rocks. Earth was a pretty dull place for the first few billion years. Until life made, arguably, the single largest jump in complexity in its history.

We don't know what exactly started the shift from single cells that were mostly on their own to huge collectives working closely together and specializing.

Around 541 million years ago, multicellular animal life suddenly exploded and became visible. And not only that, it became more and more diverse, extremely quickly. This, of course, created a problem for our newly evolved ancestors. For billions of years the microbes living in their tiny world had competed and fought for space and resources in every ecosystem available. And what are animals really to a bacteria and other critters if not a very nice ecosystem? An ecosystem filled top to bottom with free nutrients. So from the very start intruders and parasites were an existential danger to the existence of multicellular life.

Only multicellular beings that found ways to deal with this threat would survive and get the chance to become even more complex. Unfortunately, since cells and tissues do not really preserve well over hundreds of millions of years, we can't look at immune system fossils. But through the magic of science we can look at the diverse tree of life and the animals that are still around today and study their immune systems. The farther separated two creatures are on the tree of life and still share a trait of the immune system, the older that trait must generally be.

So the great questions are: Where is the immune system different, and what are the common denominators between animals? Today virtually all living beings have some form of internal defense, and as living things become more complex, so do their immune systems. We can learn a lot about the age of the immune system by comparing the defenses in very distantly related animals.

Even on the smallest scale, bacteria possess ways to defend against viruses, as they can't get taken over without a fight. In the animal world, sponges, the most basic and oldest of all animals, which have existed for more than half a billion years, possess something that probably was the first primitive immune response in animals. It is called humoral immunity. "Humor," in this context, is an ancient Greek term that means "bodily fluids." So humoral immunity is very tiny stuff, made out of proteins, that floats through the bodily fluids outside of the cells of an animal. These proteins hurt and kill microorganisms that have no business being there. This type of defense was so successful and useful that virtually all animals around today have it, including you, so evolution did not phase this system out, but rather, made it crucial to any immune defense. In principle, it hasn't changed in half a billion years.

But this was only the start. Being a multicellular animal has the perk of being able to employ many different specialized cells. So ...