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Edited by J S Friedland, L B Lightstone. London: Martin Dunitz, 2003, ISBN 1 84184 373 3
The title of this volume gives nothing away to the prospective book reviewer. I was expecting to plough through yet another undergraduate textbook, most likely with a cover featuring a false colour electronmicrograph of a bacterium being engulfed by a phagocyte, which, after review, could be off loaded on eBay to a hard up medical student. In fact, this volume is not a textbook as such and consists of 12 review article style chapters split equally between infection and immunology. To the workaday microbiologist many immunological topics, such as the biology of cytokines (which appear to be, according to circumstances, upregulated/downregulated/not affected, upregulating/downregulating/not affecting other cytokines), can seem impenetrable. However, all of the chapters in the immunology section were thoroughly readable to a non-specialist, which is in keeping with the publisher’s stated aim that the book is intended to appeal to SpRs and others in training, in addition to clinicians and scientists interested in clinical and laboratory based research.
The section of the book devoted to infection covers a broad range of topics and, as with the other half of the book, each chapter makes good use of illustrations, diagrams, and box outs. Similarly, most chapters have helpful glossaries explaining frequently used terms and some also have the URLs of key websites, which are likely to be particularly useful given that there are no references cited post-2001. I found much of interest in this book, and particularly enjoyed the chapter on Toll-like receptors and the host response to infection.
Who will buy this book? This is a difficult question to answer. Although the high quality of the content and presentation is not in doubt, the book cannot help but come across as a series of chapters dealing with topics selected apparently at random, with no discernable leitmotiv. Although potentially there is much common ground between the two disciplines, thus yielding areas for discussion that would appeal to those with an interest in either infection or immunology, the topics considered, in many cases, fail to hit this target. Those of a predominantly immunological bent will, perhaps, find little of interest in the chapter on pathogenicity islands. Conversely, the reader drawn towards infection related subjects may be inclined to pass on chapters dealing with transgenic mice as experimental models for the study of autoimmune disease or peripheral immune tolerance and transplant rejection. In this respect, the book falls between two schools, and prospective readers are advised to leaf through the book in a real shop before deciding whether it deserves a place on their bookshelf, rather than merely buying “on spec” from, say, an eBay auction.