The enigma of immunity began to lift around Christmas of 1882, when Russian zoologist Elie Metchnikoff peered into his microscope – and declared that he was watching a healing force in action. His daring theory of immunity – that voracious cells he called phagocytes consume invading bacteria – would eventually earn him a Nobel Prize, shared with his arch-rival, as well as recognition as the “Father of Innate Immunity.” But first he had to win over skeptics, especially those who dubbed his theory “an oriental fairy tale.” Using previously inaccessible archival material, author Luba Vikhanski chronicles Metchnikoff’s remarkable life, work and discoveries in Immunity, the first modern biography of this hero of medicine. Metchnikoff was a towering figure in the scientific community of the early 20th century, a tireless humanitarian who, while working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, pioneered the scientific study of intestinal bacteria and aging. His controversial theories on longevity created an international sensation, launching a global craze for yogurt, which he thought might delay aging. In this timely book, Vikhanski documents Metchnikoff's remarkable comeback in the early 21st century: After nearly a century of neglect, his ideas on immunity and on the gut flora have again suddenly moved to the forefront of modern science.
To tell Metchnikoff's story, Luba followed his international trail. In Ukraine, she traveled to his forlorn home village; in Russia, she sought out reports filed on him by the star's secret police; in France, she uncovered a secret archive preserved by a French woman who all her life believed she was Metchnikoff's love child. See photos from places in which Metchnikoff lived and worked
— Nature magazine
"An engrossing scientific biography."
"The story of a revolutionary era in medicine."— Washington Post
"The book deftly illustrates both the valiant struggles and the tragedies of Metchnikoff's life."— Foreword Reviews, a five-heart review
"Vikhanski is a great storyteller."
— Agewise Read the review
“An outstanding, enlightening and delightful biography... With details about atmosphere, fashion and behavior, the author beautifully captures the various eras through which Metchnikoff lived."
—Jerusalem Post Read the review
“A portrait that captures not only the man, but also the end-of-the-19th-century dynamism that fostered revolutions in art, politics, and science."
—Kirkus Reviews Read the review
"Vikhanski’s meticulous account of this almost-forgotten scientist reminds us of just how important a role obsession and stubbornness play in research."
—Booklist Read the review
Immunity has been listed in a roundup of “25 Amazing New Books for Spring” by the Mental Floss website
“Elie Metchnikoff was one of the most remarkable scientists of the turn of the twentieth century, ... an immunologist ahead of his time, and also, in some ways, very much behind it. In Luba Vikhanski he has finally found a biographer who brings his gripping story to life in sprightly, engaged prose for the English-reading world.”
—Michael Gordin, Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Princeton University
“A sensitive, nuanced portrait, ... at times reads like a thriller, with enjoyable accounts of Metchnikoff’s fascination with intestinal 'autointoxication' and longevity, resulting in the celebrated introduction of probiotics to promote a healthy long lifespan.”
—Siamon Gordon, Emeritus Professor of Cellular Pathology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society