I wrote How the Immune System Works because I couldn’t find a book that would give my students an overall view of the immune system. Sure, there are as many good, thick textbooks as a person might have money to buy, but these are crammed with every possible detail. There are also lots of “review books” that are great if you want a summary of what you’ve already learned – but they won’t teach you immunology. What was missing was a short book that tells, in simple language, how the immune system fits together – a book that presents the big picture of the immune system, without the jargon and the details. How the Immune System Works is written in the form of “lectures,” because I want to talk to you directly, just as if we were together in a classroom. Although Lecture 1 is a light-hearted overview, meant to give you a running start at the subject, you’ll soon discover that this is not “baby immunology.” How the Immune System Works is a concept-driven analysis of how the immune system players work together to protect us from disease – and, most importantly, why they do it this way. In Lectures 2 through 10, I focus more closely on the individual players and their roles. These lectures are short, so you probably can read them all in a couple of afternoons. In fact, I strongly suggest that you begin by reading quickly through Lectures 1–10. The whole idea is to get an overall view of the subject, and if you read one lecture a week, that won’t happen. Don’t “study” these ten lectures your first time through. Don’t even bother with the Thought Questions at the end of each lecture.
Just rip through them. Then, once you have a feel for the system, go back and spend a bit more time with these same ten lectures to get a clearer understanding of the “hows and whys.” In Lectures 11–16, I discuss the intestinal immune system, vaccines, allergies, autoimmune disease, the AIDS virus, cancer, and immunotherapy. These lectures will let you “practice” what you have learned in the earlier lectures by examining real-world examples of the immune system at work. So after you have gone through Lectures 1–10 twice, I’d suggest you read these last six lectures. When you do, I think you’ll be amazed by how much you now understand about the immune system. As you read, you will encounter passages highlighted in green, and words that are highlighted in red. These highlights are to alert you to important concepts and terms. They also will help you review a lecture quickly, once you have read it through. In some settings, How the Immune System Works will serve as the main text for the immunology section of a larger course. For a semester-long undergraduate or graduate immunology course, your professor may use this book as a companion to a comprehensive textbook. As your course proceeds, reviewing the appropriate lectures in How the Immune System Works will help you keep the big picture in focus as the details are filled in. It’s really easy to get lost in the details.