Science Book a Day Interviews Idan Ben-Barak


Special thanks to Idan Ben-Barak for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Why Aren’t We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System

Idan Ben-Barak holds a BSc in medical science and an MSc in microbiology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is currently completing a PhD in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. His first book, Small Wonders: how microbes rule our world was published by Scribe and translated into five languages. It won the 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru SB&F (Science Books and Films) Prize for Excellence in Science Books, Young Adult category. Idan’s new book is Why Aren’t We Dead Yet? the survivor’s guide to the immune system, published by Scribe. He lives in Melbourne with his wife and two children. – From Scribe Publishers

Author’s Homepage/Blog:

#1 – What was the impetus for Why Aren’t We Dead Yet?

The immune system was always something of an enigma for me – where is it? What is it? Why is it? It’s a very diffuse sort of system. From what I was reading in newspapers and advertisements, everyone else was just as confused as I was. I thought I’d try to put a stop to that confusion, and have a proper look at immunity.

#2 – What do we know about the immune system? How has this knowledge developed from say about 20 years ago?

That question deserves a book-length answer. The very, very short version of it would be that during the past 20 years, researchers have been growing increasingly aware of the connections between the immune system and other elements of the body and the environment. the relationship of the immune system with the brain, for instance, or with the microbes that live in and on us. It’s a lot more interesting than we used to think. The role and function of the innate immune system is also something that’s been receiving closer attention starting in the 1990s.

#3 – You try to inject humour into your book. Is this a philosophy you have when communicating science?

I don’t try to inject humour into my books! I just don’t bother deleting it. Humour is interweaved into our thinking, our conversations, and our lives. You’ll hear people laughing at any business meeting, pub conversation or family dinner table. Science is no different (lab conversations are a hoot).I expect that amusing things occur to any science writer while they write. The only difference is that I don’t actively remove these things if I think they add to the story I’m telling. These are choices that every writer makes for themselves.

I don’t set out to write something funny. I’m not a comedian or a humourist, whose primary goal is to make people laugh. Humour is incidental to my writing, but for me it’s a useful tool that I employ when appropriate.

#4 – How have people responded to the facts and information you provide in your book?

They haven’t yet…The book’s only been out for a couple of weeks, so even my dad has yet to finish it. The general vibes I’m getting are pretty positive so far.
I’ve done a couple of radio interviews, and many of the questions I’m asked at these have much to do with health issues – specifically the Ebola outbreak that’s been making the headlines recently, and how dangerous I think it is globally, and so forth. I have to keep saying what I said on the first page of the book: that it’s not a health advice book and doesn’t contain any revolutionary new ‘secrets’ to boost your immunity. Sorry.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books you can tell us about?

I’m revving up a maths book, to be co-written with a mathematician friend. I don’t know anything about maths and I’m pretty crap at solving equations and stuff, so I’m frankly quite scared of it all, but he’s promised there’s no exam at the end. It’s going to be an interesting experience.

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