An Elegant Defense Book Summary - An Elegant Defense Book explained in key points
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An Elegant Defense summary

Matt Richtel

The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives

4.5 (128 ratings)
35 mins

Brief summary

An Elegant Defense by Matt Richtel explores the complex world of the immune system, its role in health and disease, and the latest research on its relationship to the human brain and behavior.

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    An Elegant Defense
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    Life inside you is like a massive festival – and your immune system is in charge of ejecting dangerous gate-crashers.

    Imagine a huge party – a massive, rip-roaring carnival with hundreds of billions of attendees. Where is this wild, gargantuan bash with a guest list well over a hundred times larger than Earth’s human population?

    It’s inside you. The merrymakers are your own cells, as well as billions of bacteria and viruses. This party is what the author calls the Festival of Life.

    At this festival, making sure everything runs smoothly, are janitors and handymen, security personnel and emergency responders – the cells that constitute your immune system. They are your body’s elegant defense. They attend to tissue damage and clean up toxins. And they fight off malicious intruders known as pathogens.

    Pathogens are disease-causing agents, and they come in three main forms: bacteria, viruses and parasites. For the purposes of these blinks, we’ll be focusing only on the first two.

    In their most dangerous forms, you can think of them as tiny little killers. They’re small – really small. You can fit a few thousand bacteria inside one human cell. Viruses are even smaller. A few thousand would fit inside a single bacterium. 

    But a quick caveat: though some bacteria and viruses are pathogenic, most aren’t. In fact, a mere one percent of all bacteria are likely to cause illness. And as for viruses, some of them are crucial to our survival. For instance, about eight percent of our genetic material was created by retroviruses, a special variety of virus that invades human cells and literally becomes part of our DNA.

    So viruses and bacteria aren’t inherently bad – far from it. But a handful of them are deadly indeed.

    Just take the bacterium known as Yersinia pestis. It’s responsible for causing the Black Plague, which killed upward of 30 percent of Europe’s population in the fourteenth century. Some other nasty bacteria include salmonella, E. coli and tetanus bacillus, while the long list of deadly viruses includes Ebola, HIV, smallpox, flu and rabies.

    Prior to 1900, influenza (a viral infection) and pneumonia (an inflammation that can be viral or bacterial) were major killers, responsible for more deaths out of every 100,000 patients than any other disease. Compared with these earlier numbers, the current death rate is extremely low.

    How did we beat back these pathogens? Well, you’re going to get the long answer, which is the story of the discovery of the immune system.

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    What is An Elegant Defense about?

    An Elegant Defense (2019) is an erudite and approachable exploration of the immune system. Using the difficult story of a dear friend as a starting point, author Matt Richtel leads the reader through a mind-boggling tour of one of the world’s most complex systems – what he calls our “elegant defense.”

    An Elegant Defense Review

    An Elegant Defense (2019) is a captivating exploration of the human immune system and its remarkable powers. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a fascinating journey into the complex world of our immune system, unveiling its wonders and vulnerabilities.
    • The book skillfully weaves together personal stories, scientific research, and historical anecdotes to create a rich and engaging narrative.
    • With its insightful analysis of the immune system's role in diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders, it leaves readers with a deeper understanding and appreciation for our own bodies.

    Who should read An Elegant Defense?

    • Curious readers wondering how the immune system works
    • Students of immunology
    • People seeking better health

    About the Author

    Matt Richtel is a writer and journalist. His reporting for the New York Times won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2010; since then, he’s written several novels, including Doomsday Equation and Dead on Arrival. His nonfiction titles include A Deadly Wandering, which was named one of 2014’s best books by the San Francisco Chronicle and Amazon.

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    An Elegant Defense FAQs 

    What is the main message of An Elegant Defense?

    An Elegant Defense explores the intricacies of the immune system and its role in our health and well-being.

    How long does it take to read An Elegant Defense?

    The reading time for An Elegant Defense varies. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is An Elegant Defense a good book? Is it worth reading?

    An Elegant Defense is a fascinating exploration of the immune system's impact on our lives, making it a worthwhile read for anyone interested in science and health.

    Who is the author of An Elegant Defense?

    The author of An Elegant Defense is Matt Richtel.

    What to read after An Elegant Defense?

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