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An “important and deeply researched” (The Wall Street Journal) exploration of allergies, from their first medical description in 1819 to the cutting-edge science that is illuminating the changes in our environment and lifestyles that are making so many of us sick
Hay fever. Peanut allergies. Eczema. Either you have an allergy or you know someone who does. Billions of people worldwide—an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the global population—have some form of allergy. Even more concerning, over the last decade the number of people diagnosed with an allergy has been steadily increasing, placing an ever-growing medical burden on individuals, families, communities, and healthcare systems.
Medical anthropologist Theresa MacPhail, herself an allergy sufferer whose father died of a beesting, set out to understand why. In pursuit of answers, MacPhail studied the dangerous experiments of early immunologists as well as the mind-bending recent development of biologics and immunotherapies that are giving the most severely impacted patients hope. She scaled a roof with an air-quality controller who diligently counts pollen by hand for hours every day; met a mother who struggled to use WIC benefits for her daughter with severe food allergies; spoke with doctors at some of the finest allergy clinics in the world; and discussed the intersecting problems of climate change, pollution, and pollen with biologists who study seasonal respiratory allergies.
This is the story of allergies: what they are, why we have them, and what that might mean about the fate of humanity in a rapidly changing world.
About the Author
Dr. Theresa MacPhail is a medical anthropologist, former journalist, and associate professor of science and technology studies who researches and writes about global health, biomedicine, and disease. She holds PhDs from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco.
“An important and deeply researched book by Theresa MacPhail, a medical anthropologist who memorably portrays the human face of disease . . . In Ms. MacPhail’s analysis, allergy is not only the evil twin of immunity, but also the unexpected dark side of material progress, which has made us unhealthy in ways that we struggle in vain to cure. The author doesn’t have an easy fix for the allergy crisis, but her compassionate insights into the problem make for engrossing reading.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Allergic is the definitive biography of allergies. This accessible, comprehensive, and troubling portrait should be read by those who suffer from allergies and those who care about them, which, as MacPhail so carefully documents, includes almost all of us.”—Michael Moss, bestselling author of Salt Sugar Fat and Hooked
“A fascinating account that most of us (sniffle sniffle) will find of compelling interest—and also a powerful reminder that what we do to the world around us eventually affects the world inside us.”—Bill McKibben, author, educator, and founder of Third Act
“Allergic is just the sort of thoughtful, comprehensible, and comprehensive book we urgently need to understand how rapidly changing modern environments are interacting with our ancient immune systems to cause a frightening explosion in allergies.”—Daniel Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body and Exercised
“In this astute, empathetic, and wonderfully informative investigation, Theresa MacPhail makes a persuasive case that cooperation—with one another and with our internal ecosystems—is the key to allergy relief.”—Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts
“Comprehensively researched, deftly told, and radiating both intellect and passion, Allergic is essential reading for anyone interested in our bodies and our world. I am grateful to have this book to share with my allergy patients.”—Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD, director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University
“A holistic study of how allergies continue to bewilder medical science . . . While the culprits responsible for the increases in allergic sufferers are debatable moving targets, MacPhail skillfully narrows down the possibilities and some of the solutions. . . . [Her] examination of the science of immunology from a social and cultural perspective will give readers plenty of relevant, thought-provoking information. An exhaustive and accessible report.”—Kirkus Reviews