In between these four personal stories, Richtel weaves in intricate, sometimes obscure details on the origins of and advances in immunology, the science of the human immune system ... To lend further color to the medical narrative, Richtel interviews leading scientists and physicians in the spheres of immunology and oncology, drawing out not only their scientific perspectives but also their soulful takes on mortality. In doing all this, Richtel brilliantly blurs the lines between biology primer, medical historical text and the traditional first-person patient story ... Like a kid spinning a superhero tale, Richtel employs delightfully effusive prose ... Knowing that some readers may be less inclined to follow the wondrous minutiae of immunology, Richtel harnesses his reporter’s eye for the human condition. Beyond Hoff’s miraculous story, he relays...frustrating, often agonizing medical conundrums ... He draws frequently on the analogy of the immune system’s quest to identify the 'self' and the 'alien' within, in doing so highlighting society’s parallel struggle and the lessons we still need to learn.
... compelling ... Richtel enthusiastically and compassionately demystifies the science and the story of one of the most intricate and misunderstood landscapes of human biology — and the most rapidly changing, perhaps most crucial branch of medical research ... Richtel’s accessible prose is pithy and tight, swift and straightforward. At times, though, he pushes the metaphor envelope...However, he does this with good reason and to great effect. For those of us without medical degrees, Richtel’s brushstrokes allow us into a world where laymen would otherwise be lost. He knows when to give the gas and when to pump the brakes ... a celebration of life and the journey we all share.
An Elegant Defense gives a thorough, richly entertaining and just-wonky-enough beginner’s class in immunology through the case studies of four patients ... These four tales help readers without prior scientific training tackle the alphabet soup of immunology ... Mr. Richtel also objects to the militaristic rhetoric surrounding the immune system ... Yet even Mr. Richtel can get caught up in a breathlessly martial style that runs the risk of both inaccuracy and bombast-fatigue ... It’s hard to disagree with Mr. Richtel’s sentiment, but cherry-picking teachable moments from biology is a dicey endeavor ... Mr. Richtel takes wide liberties with the stress-disease model ... Until we know more about how the immune system responds to...cues, past and present, dispensing warnings such as Mr. Richtel’s can be at best anxiety-provoking and at worst victim-blaming.
Richtel succeeds in this formidable task using colloquial prose with touches of humor ... The patient stories are vividly told ... While successfully communicating the science of Allison and Honjo and related clinical advances to a lay reader, Richtel occasionally lapses into hyperbole.
... Richtel has exactly the right set of tools to explain how everything you know is wrong, why it’s wrong, and why that’s important — as well as what we actually now believe is right. Not only does he make all this accessible, he also ensures that you don’t feel bad about your previous misconceptions; after all, you’re no different from most scientists until the very recent past ... chtel, for his part, constructs from these four individual cases a compelling modern history of — as well as an elegant defense for — the preeminent science of our time.
An Elegant Defense is more than a book about the science of immunology. It’s also the very human stories of four individuals who suffer from immune and auto-immune diseases and disorders and of those throughout the ages who have made it their mission to try to heal these conditions ... This book is at once enlightening, frightening, and heartwarming. Though filled with scientific descriptions of medical discoveries and experimental and proven treatments in a complex field, it is surprisingly easy to read ... [Richtel] is liberal with his use of humor and upfront about his deep, personal interest in this field. Who can resist reading on when Richtel beings a chapter with: 'A case can be made that the field of immunology originated with a chicken.'?
Ancient and intricate, highly effective and ever vigilant, your immune system is engaged in a perpetual biological balancing act, 'making trade-offs to keep the peace, to maintain homeostasis, to let the individual live as long as is practical.' Richtel approaches this essential subject with awe, his writing meticulous and empathic.
A newsman’s truism insists that readers love articles that include real people, so the author introduces us to four. All illustrate the good and bad features of modern immunotherapy, but the courses of their diseases are too bizarre to be typical ... Richtel illuminates a complex subject so well that even physicians will learn.
[An] entertaining survey of the science of immunology. In punchy prose, Richtel covers the history of research into the field ... In the course of examining Richtel creates a hard-to-put-down account of the body’s first line of defense.