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Matt Richtel, An Elegant Defense
April 16, 2019 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
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This free event will take place at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Chairs for open seating are usually set up about an hour before the event begins. If you have any ADA accommodation requests, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org by April 14th.
The immune system impacts every aspect of our lives, including sleep, mood, fitness, nutrition, brain function and aging, and is the ultimate key to wellness and longevity. And yet, it is widely misunderstood. Many people operate under the misconception that they can “boost” their immune system to stay healthy. The truth is the immune system is an incredibly intricate balance within the body (its complexity rivals that of the human brain). The more we understand about how this “elegant defense” operates, the more we can improve our lives.
Magnificently reported and soulfully crafted, An Elegant Defense is the first major narrative exploration of the immune system. Through science and storytelling, Richtel describes the remarkable discovery of the immune system over the last seventy years and explains in vivid detail how this complex system works, how we interact with it, and the risks we inflict on ourselves when we meddle with its natural balance.
Richtel brings the science to life through the stories of four intimate and extraordinary medical stories: a cancer patient risen from the grave, an HIV patient considered a medical marvel, and two “invisible” women who suffer the stark injustice of autoimmunity. The story of Jason Greenstein, a close friend of the author, is particularly poignant as Richtel recounts Jason’s fight with cancer and astounding reaction to experimental treatment.
Throughout the narrative, Richtel accessibly weaves leading-edge scientific discovery through interviews and anecdotes from dozens of the world’s leading scientists. The breadth of his research and reporting is remarkable, including insight into the work of immunologist James Allison, who just this month won the Nobel Prize for his work disrupting the communication between cells and the immune system to “trick” cancer. The strides made by the immunologists in the book offer a glimpse at a future of longer, more comfortable life and of authentic understanding of the forces that drive survival.
But Richtel argues that the most powerful first-line of health lies within each of us: our behavior, our attitudes, and the choices we make. Whether common knowledge or counterintuitive advice, An Elegant Defense will enlighten readers about how every facet of life connects to the immune system. Richtel explores fascinating questions – from why boosting your immune system is a myth to what’s behind the explosion of autoimmune disorders in recent decades (a concern for 50 million Americans).
Among the thought-provoking topics Richtel explores in the book:
Why you should avoid using antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers
The close connection between mental health and the immune system
Why women are more likely to get sick than men
The impact of obesity and modern diets on the immune system and gut health
Why parents shouldn’t freak out when kids eat dirt or pick their noses
Why Amish people have fewer allergies than the rest of the population
The frontline of cancer treatments, and whether immunotherapy is the wonder fix some have promised
Are there “superviruses” that may be resistant to drugs and spread like wildfire across the globe?
How modern life and our “always on” culture puts unprecedented stress on the very system that keeps us healthy
Richtel also reflects on a striking paradox: immunology, once a backwater science and now arguably the center of modern medicine, has given us two profound gifts. One is a trove of medicine so powerful it can revive a cancer patient from their deathbed, reverse a deadly autoimmune disorder, and tinker with our immune systems at the deepest, molecular level. But the second gift is a little-grasped lesson that these tools are desperate, last-line measures. Eventually, death comes for us all, and Richtel explains why our immune system is complicit in this inevitability from the day we’re born.
Perfect for readers of popular science and books like The Emperor of All Maladies and I Contain Multitudes, An Elegant Defense will illuminate truths about the literal bodyguard within us all. I hope you’ll take a close look at this advance copy and consider a review or other coverage in the spring. And please let me know if you’d like additional review copies or more information.
MATT RICHTEL is a reporter at the New York Times. He received the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for a series of articles he expanded into his first nonfiction book, A Deadly Wandering (2014), an investigation of a fatal distracted-driving crash, about which the New York Times Book Review hailed, “It deserves a spot next to Fast Food Nation and To Kill a Mockingbird in America’s high-school curriculums.” A New York Times bestseller, A Deadly Wandering was named a best book of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, Kirkus Reviews, Winnipeg Free Press, and Amazon.com. Richtel has appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air, PBS NewsHour, and other major media outlets. He lives in San Francisco, California. Visit him online at www.mattrichtel.wordpress.com.