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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Compatibility Gene
Format: Hardcover|Change
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on 5 August 2014
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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on 10 October 2013
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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on 6 September 2013
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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on 18 November 2017
A delightful read on the history of immunology and the great many discoveries made in the last century that is equal parts educational and entertaining. If you even have a passing interest in the field of immunology then I can't recommend it enough, and Davis does an excellent job of explaining things in terms that are simple and accessible to all, with a charm and wit that keep you entertained throughout.
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on 5 October 2017
The best book on immunology, genetics and frankly popular science I've read in a long time. Literate, funny and really enjoyable. A remarkable tour through a subject that affects all our lives deeply. The stories of the early immunologists and how they made their discoveries are thrilling.
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on 10 September 2013
... 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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on 25 November 2013
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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on 26 September 2013
Daniel Davis has written a first rate - and very enjoyable - account of a complex biological system - the immune system. The book works on many levels. Not only does Davis lucidly explain the science - he manages to convey the excitement and tension of scientific discovery and - importantly - the process of scientific discovery itself. These two elements of the book are intertwined brilliantly. The science follows a logical course, taking us from the basics right through to the edge of knowledge and current areas of research. All the while, as the scientific story unfolds, it is interspersed with the biographies, thoughts and feelings of the key scientists making it read like a thriller. The book has colour, humour and insight and, overall, is extremely well written.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 June 2014
Some of the best popular science books tell us as much about the people as the science, and that is the approach taken by Daniel Davis. In exploring the ‘compatibility gene’ (or more accurately, the ‘compatibility genes’ – I don’t know why it’s singular in the title). He takes us on a voyage of discovery through the key steps to identifying the small group of genes that seem to contribute to making that individual more or less compatible with other people, whether on the level of transplants or sexual compatibility, taking in our growing understanding of the immune system along the way.

It probably helps that Davis is a practising scientist in the field – the director of research at the University of Manchester’s Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research and a visiting professor at Imperial College, London. Often, frankly, discovering the book is by a working scientist can mean turgid text or an inability to explain the science in a way the general reader can understand, but Davis writes fluently and often beautifully, as much in love with the history of his trade as the scientific breakthroughs he covers.

A good example of the way he brings a topic to life is the first subject to come under his spotlight, the Nobel Prize winning Peter Medawar and his colleagues (several of whom also get a good biographical introduction). I’ve read before about Medawar’s work on rejection and compatibility in transplants, but in Davis’ hands it’s almost as if you are talking to Medawar about his life and achievements, giving a real insight into the bumpy process of scientific discovery.

The book divides into three, looking at the scientific revolution in compatibility, the frontier of compatibility and the ‘overarching system’ which includes the near-notorious T-shirt sniffing research and the remarkable suggestion that a couple having the right mix of compatibility genes can enhance their ability to have children. All in all, there’s a good mix of the relatively familiar and the surprising new, all handled in Davis’ measured, likeable phrasing.

I only really have two small niggles (I’ve never written a review yet without any). One is that I think Davis is almost too close to the subject and, as a result, perhaps gives it more of a sense of importance than it deserves. Of course, from a medical viewpoint, this is important work, but the way he seems to put it up there with the work of Newton, Darwin and Einstein perhaps overinflates its importance. The other slight problem I have is that for me, there is rather too much biography, and not quite enough science. (It’s interesting that the lead endorsement in the press release is by Bill Bryson.) It sounds terrible, but I’m only really interested in the biographies of a handful of key scientists and that apart I’d rather just have a quick sketch and get into the science in a bit more depth – but I appreciate that this might be a very different opinion from that of many would be readers.

So don’t be put off by that textbook-like, low key cover – this is a really interesting read about a fascinating area of genetics and medicine. Recommended.
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on 10 November 2013
Excellent book, well written and just a joy to read. This is the first popular science immunology related book I have read which is not only scientifically spot on but also fun to read. Some of these topics I have struggled to get through to immunology students for years, and now my mum can understand it, I will be out of a job soon!
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