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The Compatibility Gene Hardcover – 29 Aug 2013

4.8 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (29 Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846145147
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846145148
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 511,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


Who am I? What makes me different from everyone else? Daniel Davis recounts the remarkable science that has answered one version of these questions. He makes immunology as fascinating to popular science readers as cosmology, consciousness, and evolution (Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and the author of 'How the Mind Works' and 'The Better Angels of Our Nature')

There aren't many stories of scientific endeavour that have never been told. This is one of them. Ostensibly about a set of genes that we all have and need, this book is really about the men and women who discovered them and worked out what they do. It's about brilliant insights and lucky guesses; the glory of being proved right and the paralysing fear of getting it wrong; the passion for cures and the lust for Nobels. It's a search for the essence of scientific greatness by a scientist who is headed that way himself (Armand Marie Leroi, author of 'Mutants')

Genes help make us what we are, but in the often overstated claims of what DNA can actually say one crucial section of the double helix has largely been ignored. This book fills that gap. The genes behind our system of diversity code for the clues that control tissue transplants, responses to infection and even sexual success. They are complex indeed but the Compatibility Gene cuts through the complexity to reveal the startling truth about perhaps the most important section of the molecule that defines what it means to be human (Steve Jones, author of 'Almost Like A Whale')

Davis weaves a warm biographical thread through his tale of scientific discovery, revealing the drive and passion of those in the vanguard of research ... unusual results, astonishing implications and ethical dilemmas (The Times)

Davis makes the twists and turns all count (Guardian)

Davis ranges energetically through the research. Cultural references and anecdotes abound (Nature)

A fascinating, expertly told story (Michael Brooks New Statesman)

The genes that make you a true individual ... Davis provides a well-written and easy-to-read account of the sometimes complicated biology behind the crucial genes that affect our lives so profoundly (New Scientist)

Wonderful pen-portraits of the many scientists involved in this fast-moving field ... 5 out of 5 stars (Henry Gee BBC Focus magazine)

Dr. Davis's readable and informative book takes the reader into unexpectedly interesting corners of both the immune system and the lives of immunologists. It is packed with an insider's knowledge - not just of the field, but of where its bodies are buried (Nicholas Wade New York Times)

An elegantly written, unexpectedly gripping account of how scientists painstakingly unravelled the way in which a small group of genes ... crucially influence, and unexpectedly interconnect, various aspects of our lives... Lab work has rarely been made to seem more interesting or heroic (Bill Bryson Guardian, Books of the Year 2013)

About the Author

Daniel M. Davis is director of research at the University of Manchester's Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research and a visiting professor at Imperial College, London. He has published over 100 academic papers, including papers in Nature and Science, and Scientific American, and lectures all over the world, including at the Royal Institution. He has previously won the Oxford University Press Science Writing Prize, and has given numerous interviews for national and international media, including the Times, Guardian, Metro, and National Public Radio (USA). A major feature on his research was published in The Times. Experiments filmed in his laboratory were shown in the BBC series 'The History of Medicine' (2008). He also keenly engages in broad scientific affairs, recently publishing a view on UK science funding policies in Nature.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This excellent book by Daniel Davis is a well written and enjoyable account of the personalities and challenges behind the discovery of our most complex genetic system, our compatibility genes. The book explores the science that has cracked the clinical problem of tissue rejection following transplantation and leads us to the exciting new understanding of how our immune system may protect us against cancer and cell damage. The final chapters delve into the role of the immune system and compatibility genes in pregnancy, brain plasticity, mate selection and the essence of individuality.
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Format: Hardcover
The compatibility gene is Professor Davis' first foray into scientific publishing for the general audience. Having a pretty good resume focused around immunology, you know that this book is going to be a good'un. The story starts from the early days of immunology as a subject, introducing the "holy trinity" of Billingham, Brent, and Medawar and their work on transplantation, which led to a Nobel Prize (for Medawar and Brent only, interestingly). Immunology is an all encompassing subject which affects pretty much everything in our bodies, so the thing I really liked about this book is how Davis manages to touch on so much of this with just the right amount of detail, and leaves the reader without feeling short changed of information.

As an aspiring immunologist, this book provides an excellent history of a constantly revolving subject and the thing which surprised me is how recent all the tales were, often meaning Davis had had personal encounters with the person in question, which provides a really unique and personal touch. Another thing I found Davis did really well was incorporating his own research without it feeling like an advertisement for himself or his lab; it just feels relevant. The information is presented in a humbling manor, despite the fact some of his research has been extremely important to the immunology community. This also gives his opinions a certain punch, with the feeling like the words are really from someone in the know!

Overall, I would highly recommend The Compatibility Gene to anyone with an interest in science and biology, particularly immunology. I feel it is an especially useful read for someone at the beginning of a career in science, although I imagine that there is also new information for someone well established. An excellent, motivating read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Prof. Davis gives a historical account on the discoveries about the cell-mediated immune system (i.e. T cell and NK cell) related to MHC proteins (i.e. proteins that are involved in immune surveillance and are also responsible for tissue compatibility in the context of organ transplantation). In essence, this book describes how we arrived at our current understanding of how our immune system recognizes self and non-self - how the immune system knows what is part of us and what is foreign. His approach is to describe what kind of problems and questions led to the hypotheses and experiments resulting in key discoveries (e.g. during WWII burns victims were given skin transplants, which were rejected if they were from someone else, and were rejected faster if new transplant from the same donor to the same recipient was made, and how the question of why this occurred stimulated Peter Medawar in his research and finally led to discovery of MHC molecules). The approach taken ensures that anyone with even a most rudimentary understanding of biology (i.e. at the level of what are organs, cells, and proteins) can enjoy the book. For someone completely unfamiliar with immunology the book gives a memorable and highly readable account on how a major part of our immune system works. For a biologist, a physician, or an immunologist the key contribution of this book is to map the road that led to those principles described in immunology textbooks. Indeed, it is unfortunate that the textbooks rarely describe how we came to know the things described in them, for Prof. Davis shows that this can bring the content into life and make it memorable.
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Format: Kindle Edition
... I would probably know a lot more about biology and would have been a lot more interested in science.

Davis masterfully humanises facts and figures with The Compatibility Gene; taking readers on a journey from the beginnings of transplants right through to the eventually understanding that no one cell has one role, our bodies multi-task. He even goes on to discuss how scientists have tried to work out - and this is still under debate - if our cells determine who we are more attracted to.

But that isn't the whole point of the book, and nor it's most significant section. It is the combination of scientific facts and the scientists behind them - saving lives and striving to understand our organic supercomputer bodies - that really makes it worth reading. In an age where scientists are often vilified, it is nice to get a perspective on the men and women who want to understand why our bodies do what they do, and how that can help us fight disease etc...

This book is well worth the reading!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I waited over 2 weeks to receive "The Compatibility Gene", it was definitely worth the wait. Daniel Davis does a fantastic job at revealing the wonders of the immune system - as I read I was overwhelmed by how influential this part of our genome is in our bodies and my feeling of awe was definitely facilitated by Davis' elegant way with words. He brings the story of the immune system to life with anecdotes about the scientists who have devoted their lives to studying it which are both funny and entertaining while at the same time put into perspective the amount of hard graft and frustration that these people face in their work. I read the book within a few days because it was so well written and entertaining, I'd go as far as to say it was hard to put down at times. I would highly recommend this book to anyone - scientist or non scientist - it is a fabulous example of science being communicated very well.
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