An Elegant Design

I picked this book after being suggested by Bill Gates as “a timely primer on your immune system”.

The book is about four stories explaining how our immune system defends (or destroys) us. Though the story revolves around 4 people and their journey with the immune system, I found many interesting science facts. I have always been fascinated by Biology and how we evolved over the years. I can attribute my interest to discussions over health and cancer with my brother over the years.

I read this book after reading I contain Multitudes by Ed Yong. So few of the concepts I learned from that book resonated here as well. I was surprised to know how pathogens can outsmart our defenses, How meditation, sleep can help in improving immunity, Why we can not be immortal.

If you want to know more about why we can not beat death (Not a good idea), Vital Question provides a very compelling answer.

By reading this book, You’ll get a better understanding of our immune system’s complexity; Delicate, precarious tradeoffs inherent in its mechanism. I always knew utmost cleanliness is not a good idea but this book takes it to next level asking you to eat your nose pick.

Few Highlights from the book

It [Immune System] is an ever-vigilant, omnipresent peacekeeping force in the festival of life

I typically used to think of our immune system as Army which is there to stop invasion but this book showed that over-powered the immune system is bad (even worse than a weak system) to the host (us).

Inflammation is the reaction of the body to an event that challenges our well=being

When I was younger and my wounds get infected, the pus I cleaned was thought of as foreign. Now I know it is a part of our healing process. Lot of things that I considered as diseases are nothing but the way our immune system is trying to protect us.

When the system contributes to longer life, it comes with a powerful potential cost.

You mess with your immune system at your own risk.

Tinkering with our immune system is very risky. It involves even taking unnecessary antibiotics. My wife went through a recent surgery that forced her to take a strong dose of antibiotics. Even after a month, she does not feel that her energy levels are back. Any subtle changes can impact the balance of our system.

The more diversity we have — physically, spiritually, intellectually —the better our balance. Just as in the immune system and microbiome.

The immune system is constantly seeking to maintain harmony, not just by limiting its attacks at all but the most necessary ones.

To have a fully effective immune system, we need regular engagement with bacteria in our environment and our gut.

We have evolved along with microbes in our environment. I like to think, Bacteria let us live as we are effective in providing them with food. With a heavy emphasis on cleanliness, we are isolating our immune system from its classmates, Bacteria. I do not see this ending well based on the rise of autoimmune diseases, allergies, etc.

Immune system teachers us to err on the side of cooperation and acceptance.

We must continue to strive, dream and exercise all the passions that have gotten us this far, while also doing a much better job of accepting death.

If we want a strong immune system and want it to fight every invader, We could not have survived as species. When our immune system has evolved to cooperate and accept to survive with the dominant organism of the earth — Bacterias, Viruses, and other lives, I see no reason why all of us can not collectively cooperate to tackle new-age problems like climate crisis.


I am sure we are making leaps and bounds every year in our ability to tweak the immune system with precision. When I read about such intricate and sophisticated marvel which makes us, I see this as a point for evolution rather than intelligent design. Few strong take away from this book,

  • Sleep, Meditation & Stress levels have a great impact on your immune system and health.
  • Having an overpowered immune system is bad and balance is critical for life to continue.
  • While cleanliness is important, do not overdo it. Working with Soil, walking barefoot is good.
  • Avoid using antibacterial soaps, cleaning products unless necessary.
  • Live in the moment. Find balance. Accept death when it comes.