Textbook, Autobiography, and a History of immunological research
I actually picked up this book because it was next to another book I was looking for. Overall, I’m glad I grabbed it. I wanted to brush up on my immunology, and this book managed to work for that. I’ve read a lot of text books and biographies, along with field journals and histories. This wasn’t exactly any of those things, and was in some ways all of them.
The book helpfully recounts the history of our understanding of the immune system, outlining various experiments and breakthroughs that led us to our current understanding. Being an important figure in the field, the recounting has an autobiographical flavour, as it focuses on the research of Paul and his associates.
Oftentimes, his explanations are more than a little convoluted, and I imagine his editor just kind of let some of the more opaque and ambiguous paragraphs slide by.
Providing our understanding in the context in the context of the relevant experiments is a rewarding approach, and I think that doing so has the added advantage of giving the reader an appreciation for the scientific method (a thing which the public, these days, is sorely lacking).
Towards the end, however, there was an interesting little blip. Throughout the book, Paul will tangent into the politics of different research awards and grants and committees, which i tend to find tedious. But then he mentioned how he had been heading a search committee to find a director of research – a role heading a committee to centralize and direct AIDS research and funding. It raised an eyebrow (mine) when he himself took the position he was seeking to fill, apparently at the request of none other than Anthony Fauci. I’m not familiar with the names or politics of this field of research, and maybe everything was above board, but I would love to know what opinions were of this appointment at the time. He very well could have been the best person for the job (and was praised for the work he did in this position) but a committee that determines what researchers will be receiving the millions in government funding and public donations seems to be a position of great power in the research world. And for the head of the search committee to simply end up with the job seems a bit odd, does it not?
I would have to voice criticism at the idea of centralizing that much influence in determining the direction of research on such an important disease, and the author acknowledges his own misgivings on the subject. One can’t deny that centralization serves to streamline research and avoid unnecessary redundancy, but my first thought is that funding could be diverted from solutions that may be effective but less profitable. But who knows – investigating any corruption on that level would be a whole book on its own.
Regardless of that little curiousity, the book was an excellent overview on the field of immunology, and, thankfully, at under 300 pages, informative and thorough without being long-winded or tedious.
The body of work that Paul produced in his lifetime is certainly impressive, and his impact on the field is significant. I was a little taken aback when I looked him up and found that he died shortly after the publication of this book. It is a sad irony that he died of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, since a large part of his career was spent investigating causes and treatments for similar conditions.