14 Feb 2022

Book tip: Immune – an excursion through the immune system

By Sabine Gysi

This text is also available in German.

We live in the heyday of self-proclaimed virologists, immunologists and epidemiologists. Actually, we could care less about them. But the sheer volume of their pronouncements threatens to crowd out the useful information that the real experts who have been doing research in these fields for decades are trying to impart to us. What can be done?

Orientation can be provided by those researchers who manage to distinguish themselves from the information noise with their voice, but also by actors from communication and journalism who convey knowledge in a way that creates clarity. I would particularly like to recommend the book “Immune” by Philipp Dettmer, published last November, which takes us into the depths of our own immune system over several 100 pages. It does pretty much everything right that science communication can do right:

The storytelling: Already on the first page it becomes clear that the author has mastered storytelling. We are not bored for a second on the journey through our immune system. There is fighting with sophisticated precision weapons, with the machine gun and the means of chemical warfare; but the cells of the immune system also dance with each other, kiss and whisper magic words to each other.

The visuals: While reading, a film runs in your head, and yet: If all this were only described in words, the book could seem overwhelming. But artfully drawn illustrations help us at regular intervals to sort out and overview what we have read. The knowledge: Philipp Dettmer, founder of the legendary Youtube channel and design studio Kurzgesagt, has spent years researching and working with scientists. What he teaches us about the complex interplay of our innate and adaptive immune system and its many players, about infections, autoimmune diseases and vaccinations, is based on solid knowledge. The not-knowing: Despite the comprehensive knowledge transfer, the book is transparent when it comes to areas that still need to be researched in more detail or where no clear findings are yet available. An important component that makes science communication credible.

At eye level: Admittedly, the tone seems teacher-like in parts; the reader is addressed as someone who has a lot to learn. At the same time, Philipp Dettmer openly admits how much he himself learned while working on this book; how often he was amazed. He takes us by the hand and invites us to follow his own journey of learning and wonder. The book is published simultaneously in English and German. I have read the English (original) version, but have been told that the German edition is also well worth reading.
It is available here:

Immune: a Journey into the Mysterious System that Keeps You Alive
by Philipp Dettmer, published by Random House, November 2021

Immun: Alles über das faszinierende System, das uns am Leben hält 
von Philipp Dettmer, erschienen bei Ullstein, November 2021

Support your local bookstore and order the book there.

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