Book Review - Immune: A Journey Into The Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive

Book Review - Immune: A Journey Into The Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive
Photo by CDC / Unsplash

I just finished reading Immune by Philip Dettmer (the creator of Kurzgesagt-In A Nutshell). While I ordered this book back around Christmas time and was one of the first people to get the book, I had only read 1 or 2 chapters of it up until this week when I finally decided to finish it in earnest.

As with all Kurzgesagt material, Dettmer's goal in this book was to take a highly complex topic and explain it in a way that many people can understand. In this way, there are likely many lies or half-truths inherent in the text that exist for the express purpose of explaining a complex topic. Having read the book, Kurzgesagt's video about them "lying to you" I am pretty sure is a direct result of this book.  

Working in the highly complex and often misunderstood world of cybersecurity and technology, I fully understand Dettmer's need to simplify things even if sacrificing some accuracy in the process. My biggest takeaway from the book was just the sheer complexity of our immune system and the levels of abstraction that exist for us to even begin to understand the system. With technology, when we start explaining specifics we have to talk about the user interface, then how information is stored, then the 1s and 0s that make up that data, then the elections and magnetic fields that let that information be stored and transmitted, then the transistors and atoms at the other end that receive the information and translate it back up the stack to something someone else can view. The immune system is the same way with each layer becoming more and more complex. The beauty of any system is in the complexity that results in a functioning system.  

While I did enjoy the illustrations in the book in the typical Kurzgesagt style, they were not a major selling factor for me. I did enjoy that they were used sparingly when necessary but overall, if they had not been printed, I do not think I would have felt much different about the book.

Thinking through the parts of the book that discuss how our immune system came to be the way it is was all pretty amazing. The thought that evolution is capable of building such a complex system is just insane. While the anthropomorphizing of the system was extremely helpful in explaining the interactions between different cells in your immune system, I think it also stripped away some of the acknowledgment that the perpetuation of the human race through the immune system has largely been due to random chance over millions of year.

Overall, I have gained a significant appreciation of the human body and its processes. My prior understanding of the immune system was mostly from high school biology class and pretty much involved antibodies and killer T cells (but I didn't know what they did). I don't know what I plan to do with this newfound knowledge but at least I have it if I need it. ūü¶†