In somewhat disjunctive fashion, an Australian Nobel laureate (1996) writes about his award, about his own life and research, about the history of the Nobel Prize and about the flaring conflicts between religion and science, especially in the United States.
Doherty declares that this is a book for a general readership—and most of it is. Exceptions include his appendixes (three scholarly papers) and his chapter on research into the immune system (his own specialty), which features sentences like this: “Much of my own research uses mAbs to identify various proteins on the surface of immune T lymphocytes that allow their characterisation and separation by flow cytometry.” Other segments range from self-effacing and charming (his accounts of winning the award, going to Stockholm to receive it) to provocative (science and religion) to, well, silly. His final chapter, for example, comprises advice for young scientists (“Think outside the box”) and would do quite nicely as a self-help article in an airline magazine. We learn a bit about his personal history. His parents both left school at 15 and were sort of genially agnostic—and big readers. He began in veterinary studies, then segued into immunology, where he has made his greatest contributions (he shared his Nobel with a one-time colleague). The least-appealing segments deal with how tough it is once you win a Nobel—so many demands on your time, so many speeches to make, awards to accept. Much more engaging are his comments about the scientific issues of the day—stem-cell research, public health concerns (AIDS, new flu viruses), the intelligent-design debate. Like many non-Americans, he is somewhat bemused by the deep strain of religious fundamentalism in the U.S. Looking for common backgrounds among Nobel-winners, he finds only a few. He favors strong systems of education and wonders if the U.S. will continue its scientific supremacy, as the forces of anti-intellectualism in the country appear to be strengthening.
At times amiable and light but with some brain-straining segments, as well.