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A Commotion in the Blood: Life, Death, and the Immune System

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A New York Times Notable Book, 1997 Library Journal, Best Book of 1997 Beginning with the "occasional miracles" of a mysterious turn-of-the-century cancer vaccine called Coley's toxins, Stephen S. Hall traces the story of how doctors have learned to harness the immune system and its "commotions" to develop a wide array of cutting-edge therapies. Moving deftly between laborat A New York Times Notable Book, 1997 Library Journal, Best Book of 1997 Beginning with the "occasional miracles" of a mysterious turn-of-the-century cancer vaccine called Coley's toxins, Stephen S. Hall traces the story of how doctors have learned to harness the immune system and its "commotions" to develop a wide array of cutting-edge therapies. Moving deftly between laboratory and bedside, Hall's absorbing narrative navigates the politics of discovery and elucidates the dazzling complexities of the microscope slide, tracking the curiously potent cells and molecules at the heart of the immune response. From the author of "the best book written about the new age of biology" (Nobel laureate Philip Sharp), who "succeeds marvelously in making science accessible to the general reader," (New York Times), this fast-paced account of medicine in the making is part of the Sloan Foundation Technology Book series.


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A New York Times Notable Book, 1997 Library Journal, Best Book of 1997 Beginning with the "occasional miracles" of a mysterious turn-of-the-century cancer vaccine called Coley's toxins, Stephen S. Hall traces the story of how doctors have learned to harness the immune system and its "commotions" to develop a wide array of cutting-edge therapies. Moving deftly between laborat A New York Times Notable Book, 1997 Library Journal, Best Book of 1997 Beginning with the "occasional miracles" of a mysterious turn-of-the-century cancer vaccine called Coley's toxins, Stephen S. Hall traces the story of how doctors have learned to harness the immune system and its "commotions" to develop a wide array of cutting-edge therapies. Moving deftly between laboratory and bedside, Hall's absorbing narrative navigates the politics of discovery and elucidates the dazzling complexities of the microscope slide, tracking the curiously potent cells and molecules at the heart of the immune response. From the author of "the best book written about the new age of biology" (Nobel laureate Philip Sharp), who "succeeds marvelously in making science accessible to the general reader," (New York Times), this fast-paced account of medicine in the making is part of the Sloan Foundation Technology Book series.

30 review for A Commotion in the Blood: Life, Death, and the Immune System

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    A fascinating survey of the history of anti-cancer research. It’s good to know some of these names and the stories associated with those who have tried to either cure cancer or at least just slow it down a bit. One of the more frustrating and sometimes terrifying aspects of the whole story is the extent to which market economics affects how research is carried out; so many avenues seem to have been closed off mostly because they cost too much to pursue. Whether humanity might have benefitted fro A fascinating survey of the history of anti-cancer research. It’s good to know some of these names and the stories associated with those who have tried to either cure cancer or at least just slow it down a bit. One of the more frustrating and sometimes terrifying aspects of the whole story is the extent to which market economics affects how research is carried out; so many avenues seem to have been closed off mostly because they cost too much to pursue. Whether humanity might have benefitted from the pursuit no matter how much it cost remains undecided.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chelsi

    A truly exceptional book. Not only was in tirelessly researched and accurate, but it was written with such beauty that it should be considered literature. Fascinating stories, superb writing, and masterfully composed.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda Sue

    This was a very lengthy tome, redundant I know, about the history of immunology, who the scientists of note were and where we are with immunotherapy and fighting cancer and disease as of 1997, which was the publication date of this book. Fast forward almost 20 years and I'm sure there have been advances and setbacks as this book recounts. I thoroughly enjoyed the history-it was laid out very well even for laymen. I took notes as I do with all my medical and history readings and appreciated learn This was a very lengthy tome, redundant I know, about the history of immunology, who the scientists of note were and where we are with immunotherapy and fighting cancer and disease as of 1997, which was the publication date of this book. Fast forward almost 20 years and I'm sure there have been advances and setbacks as this book recounts. I thoroughly enjoyed the history-it was laid out very well even for laymen. I took notes as I do with all my medical and history readings and appreciated learning about the early pioneers in the field along with the egocentric scientists and competition in the field at large. Medicine is a mix of art and science and this book makes the case. It is no different from other fields of discovery-with your combination of egos, government regulators, biotech companies, pharma, cancer institutes, etal - the human condition at play as I often repeat myself. I learned about Coley's toxins, interferon, interleukin 2 and 12, T cells, B cells, factors, killer cells, TNF,lab mice, and more. The anecdotes and stories of real life cancer patients were key to really grasping experimental clinical trials as it were. My favorites were Dr. William B Coley and patient "Frau H" -truly remarkable. I may have to find out if there's a follow-up book or where we are now in 2015 with immunotherapy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I read this book years ago, in fact over a decade ago, but revisit it time to time to once again enjoy and learn from some of the finest science journalism I've ever read. It was one of the books that made me firmly believe I wanted to be involved in biomedical research in some capacity and one, along with The Coming Plague, that represents amazingly in-depth medical writing that can connect with the lay reader yet offers ample insights also to the professional. This book tells of a search, a qu I read this book years ago, in fact over a decade ago, but revisit it time to time to once again enjoy and learn from some of the finest science journalism I've ever read. It was one of the books that made me firmly believe I wanted to be involved in biomedical research in some capacity and one, along with The Coming Plague, that represents amazingly in-depth medical writing that can connect with the lay reader yet offers ample insights also to the professional. This book tells of a search, a quest if you will, and it is the search for interferons that can enable our bodies' immune systems to better combat cancer. Along the way, we find out about Coley's Toxins, tumor necrosis factor and interleukin, and last-ditch, wing-and-prayer surgical efforts at treating cancer. Through it all, we are provided clear prose but also detailed sketches of the scientists and physicians who made these advances in medicine possible—at points the book nearly reads like a novel. Certainly, there are points in this narrative that are depressing, but the hope that is more common is a true hope and one that portends further triumphs against cancer. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, not only for its powerful writing but because aside from medical texts, you will not find a better explanation of how the immune system and interferons work against cancer.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Converse

    Starting with the late nineteenth century experiments of the American physician William Coley, the book describes the attempts to make the immune system react to and eliminate tumors. More recent developments include the uses of interferon, t-cells, interleukin, the injection of bacteria (to gin up the immune response so that it will attack the cancer as well as the bacteria- this is what Coley seems to have done) and a cast of other molecules and leukocytes. As of the book's publication in 1997 Starting with the late nineteenth century experiments of the American physician William Coley, the book describes the attempts to make the immune system react to and eliminate tumors. More recent developments include the uses of interferon, t-cells, interleukin, the injection of bacteria (to gin up the immune response so that it will attack the cancer as well as the bacteria- this is what Coley seems to have done) and a cast of other molecules and leukocytes. As of the book's publication in 1997, no widely effective means had been found. Some of the methods have been very effective against cancers that are, unfortunately, not the very common ones.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laurence Hattersley

    This book I found fascinating reading. It is effectively a history book talking about science and medicine and our discovery of the mechanics of the human immune system, but with particular reference to the people who did the research. It also says all this in particular reference to cancer. The books we read these days are usually about the end result, without talking about the journey to this moment.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Little

    Interesting look at the history of using immunotherapy (and learning more about the immune system) for the treatment of cancer. I like the insights on how science actually works through mistakes, missteps, politics, etc.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Too much: this old white dude did this or that, I think I wanted more of the story of science told and not the story of these men who discovered it. Didn't finish it. Too much: this old white dude did this or that, I think I wanted more of the story of science told and not the story of these men who discovered it. Didn't finish it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    sk

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Technical. Very in depth, but I liked it. I am used to reading medically detailed books. Good read if you are interested in the history of cancer.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Davis

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ken

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark Bradley

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eric Leuliette

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tamer

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pete

  17. 4 out of 5

    Beth Haynes

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cristink Kelley

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ian Boothby

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nigel

  22. 5 out of 5

    Christie Taylor

  23. 5 out of 5

    Emmett Fikus

  24. 5 out of 5

    Riley Holmes

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Loved it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  28. 4 out of 5

    Saurabh

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katy

  30. 5 out of 5

    Daniela

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