Close Notification

Your cart does not contain any items

An Elegant Defense

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

Matt Richtel



In stock
Ready to ship


10 April 2020
National Bestseller
A valuable read that will help you understand what it takes to stop COVID-19. ... A super interesting look at the science of immunity. -Bill Gates, Gates Notes Summer Reading List

The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist explicates for the lay reader the intricate biology of our immune system (Jerome Groopman, MD, New York Review of Books)

From New York Times science journalist Matt Richtel, An Elegant Defense is an acclaimed and definitive exploration of the immune system and the secrets of health. Interweaving cutting-edge science with the intimate stories of four individual patients, this epic, first-of-its-kind book give[s] lay readers a means of understanding what's known so far about the intricate biology of our immune systems (The Week).

The immune system is our body's essential defense network, a guardian vigilantly fighting illness, healing wounds, maintaining order and balance, and keeping us alive. It has been honed by evolution over millennia to face an almost infinite array of threats. For all its astonishing complexity, however, the immune system can be easily compromised by fatigue, stress, toxins, advanced age, and poor nutrition-hallmarks of modern life-and even by excessive hygiene. Paradoxically, it is a fragile wonder weapon that can turn on our own bodies with startling results, leading today to epidemic levels of autoimmune disorders.

An Elegant Defense effortlessly guides readers on a scientific detective tale winding from the Black Plague to twentieth-century breakthroughs in vaccination and antibiotics, to today's laboratories that are revolutionizing immunology-perhaps the most extraordinary and consequential medical story of our time. Drawing on extensive new interviews with dozens of world-renowned scientists, Richtel has produced a landmark book, equally an investigation into the deepest riddles of survival and a profoundly human tale that is movingly brought to life through the eyes of his four main characters, each of whom illuminates an essential facet of our elegant defense.
Imprint:   HARPER360
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 229mm,  Width: 152mm,  Spine: 26mm
Weight:   512g
ISBN:   9780062698490
ISBN 10:   0062698494
Pages:   448
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Matt Richtel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and bestselling nonfiction and mystery author. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Meredith, a neurologist, and their two children. In his spare time, he plays tennis and piano and writes (not very good) songs. Visit him online at

Reviews for An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives

Vividly told. ... Explicates for the lay reader the intricate biology of our immune system. ... Richtel succeeds in this formidable task. -- JEROME GROOPMAN, <em>New York Review of Books</em> Deeply affecting. ... A compelling modern history of-as well as an elegant defense for-the preeminent science of our time. -- Los Angeles Review of Books Richtel brilliantly blurs the lines between biology primer, medical historical text and the traditional first-person patient story. ... Richtel harnesses his reporter's eye for the human condition. -- <em>Washington Post</em> In this thorough investigation, Richtel details the explosion of knowledge over the past 70 years. ... He weaves into his narrative four case studies [that] add a moving personal dimension. -- BBC, 10 Books to Read This Month One of those rare nonfiction books that transcends the genre. ... A fascinating and engrossing account of the latest, and quite astonishing, discoveries involving the human immune system. ... An inspiring and wonderful read. ... I highly recommend this extraordinary book. -- Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling author of <em>The Lost City of the Monkey God</em> A thorough, richly entertaining and just-wonky-enough beginner's class in immunology through the case studies of four patients. -- <em>Wall Street Journal</em> Remarkable. ... Richtel is a gifted storyteller. ... A story about cutting-edge science, humanely told. -- Matt McCarthy, USA Today Matt Richtel's An Elegant Defense is a comprehensive and engaging primer on the body's 'ever-vigilant, omnipresent peacekeeping force.' The immune system plays an essential role in fighting infections and cancer and in regulating our normal health. Read this superb book to better understand one of the enduring mysteries of human biology. -- SANDEEP JAUHAR, <em>New York Times</em> bestselling author of <em>Heart: A History</em> An expert examination of the immune system. ... Richtel illuminates a complex subject so well that even physicians will learn. -- <em>Kirkus</em>, STARRED review Richtel approaches this essential subject with awe, his writing meticulous and empathic. -- Booklist, STARRED Review Award-winning reporter Matt Richtel examines the scientific and human realities of immune anomaly through four case studies. ... Through these harrowing accounts, Richtel interweaves the research history. -- Nature, Best Science Picks A deeply reported and entertainingly written exploration of the human immune system and how it works. -- USA Today ( 5 Books Not to Miss ) Plumbs the enormous impact of the human immune system. ... Despite the topic's staggering complexity... the heart and craft of a fine storyteller emerges most memorably. -- Mercury News A remarkable journey of exploration inside the human body. ... Richly informative and engaging. ... Eminently readable and with so many important takeaways, An Elegant Defense is well worth one's investment of time. -- Shelf Awareness An engaging deep dive into our immune system. -- Men's Health Richtel's new book is so useful. ... Give[s] lay readers a means of understanding what's known so far about the intricate biology of our immune systems. -- <em>The Week,</em> Book of the Week Compelling. ... Richtel enthusiastically and compassionately demystifies the science and the story of one of the most intricate and misunderstood landscapes of human biology. ... A celebration of life and the journey we all share. -- <strong><em>Washington Independent Review of Books</em></strong> Enlightening. ... Readers who suffer from challenged immune systems will welcome validation for the physical and emotional trials they endure, gain deeper understanding of their ailments, and find hope for the future. Readers who are interested in the human body's capacity to both harm or heal itself will be fascinated. -- <em>New York Journal of Books</em> A deeply reported account of how the immune system works. ... Richtel weaves dense, complex research into suspense and human drama; his book reads, at times, like a harrowing mystery novel. -- Spirituality and Health magazine A hard-to-put-down account of the body's first line of defense. -- <em>Publishers Weekly</em> A sweeping overview of immunology's history. ... The prose in An Elegant Defense is vibrant, conversational, direct and often funny. ... The content is captivating and useful. -- Science News [An] entertaining and a worthwhile read. -- The Missourian Fascinating. ... Rooted in evidence-based research. ... Compelling. -- AudioFile Books like An Elegant Defense give mainstream readers insights into that process, insights that run deeper than those a textbook might provide. When we understand how science really works, perhaps we will be a bit less susceptible to anti-scientific seductions. Richtel's elegant analogies and compelling human stories will help us remember the basic concepts of modern immunology long after the jargon and acronyms have been forgotten. -- Commentary A mind-blowing page-turner with moving yet playful human dramas. -- MindBodyGreen Fascinating read, especially in the context of a pandemic. Through four personal stories, you discover the captivating complexity of our immune system, written in such a way that it's an easy read for the layman. -- Bloomberg News, A Best Book of 2020 A valuable read that will help you understand what it takes to stop COVID-19. ... A super interesting look at the science of immunity. -- Bill Gates

See Also