Book Review: Immune: A Journey Into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive by Philipp Dettmer

While things have now returned to some semblance of normalcy, over the last 2 years we’ve all seen our lives upended to at least some degree by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fear of just how bad things could get combined with being cooped up at home led many people to head online to try and get some sort of answers, and so as the number of cases exponentially climbed so too did the number of newfound “experts” in virology. So how does one better arm yourself against the swaths of misinformation out there and better prepare to sift through the fast-moving data for the next outbreak? A good way to start is by learning the fundamentals of how our immune systems work in the first place, and I can’t think of a better place for the average person to start than with Philpp Dettmer’s Immune.

The creator of the popular YouTube science channel Kurzgesagt, Dettmer here sets out to make one of the more obtuse systems in our already complicated anatomy understandable and succeeds spectacularly. Each chapter covers a part of the immune system, from the first to the last lines of defense, accompanied by striking illustrations by Philip Laibacher. After first introducing the reader to the basics, we are taken along as the body responds to a variety of invaders, learn about what can happen when it turns on itself, and what we can do to keep it operating in tip-top shape.

Because of how complex the many different parts of this system are, the book is occasionally dry and textbook-like, but Dettmer keeps readers engaged throughout with silly humor, vivid metaphors, and a war-like “plot”. It is also greatly appreciated that things never feel dumbed-down too much for those of us without advanced degrees, but that it is always explained when things have been simplified and why. Reading Immune isn’t going to make anyone an expert, but it will instill them with a sense of awe at the battle(s) constantly being waged in their own bodies, and will have them more than ready to counter whatever their crazy uncle might have found on when he brings it up next Thanksgiving. ★★★★

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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