Courtney Johnston's Reviews > The Beginner's Guide To Winning The Nobel Prize: A Life In Science

The Beginner's Guide To Winning The Nobel Prize by Peter C. Doherty
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Jun 15, 10

liked it
bookshelves: biography, science, own
Read from June 01 to 12, 2010 — I own a copy

Peter Doherty shared the 1996 Nobel Prize for Medicine with Rudolf Zinkernagel for their discovery in the 1970s of 'the nature of cellular immune defence'.

Doherty qualified originally as a vet, and then moved into research science. He splits his time between Australia and the States, leading research programmes at the University of Melbourne and St Jude's Children's Hospital.

Somewhere inside this 250 page book there's a really good 100 page essay. Pretty much every page had me reaching for my red pen, as cliche piled up on cliche and basic references were over explained ("family rivalries ... we recognise from the Mantagus and Capulets of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet"; "To borrow from St John's gospel, I would say that science is a 'big church' with 'many mansions'; it accommodates all sorts of people raised in many different belief systems").

Doherty wrote the book, I think, as part of his sense of obligation to use the platform that winning a Nobel Prize gives one to speak strongly for the need for society (and politicians) to support science, but also for scientists to be considerate of society - the chapter about science and religion is interesting, with its caution that the science community needs to beware of becoming reactionary in their own behaviour when faced with opposition from religious groups.

Where Doherty is particularly interesting is in his writing about the business of being a science researcher - of how careers are developed, of how a research team is set up and operates, of the crucial nature of publishing one's findings in the right place at the right time, of how political and financial support help build centres of excellence, and of the dangers of being sucked into committees, administration and speaking tours.

Doherty writes well about the experience and effects of being awarded a Nobel Prize. Has also obviously turned his scientific bent for data onto Nobel Prize winners, with various analyses of nationality, religious or cultural affiliations, etc.

Where the book is particularly weak is in Doherty's explanation of his own work. Immunology is an intrinsically interesting topic (well, I think so, anyway) and his chapter about the history of research and practice in this area is solid but not by any means better than ones I'e read elsewhere, and his description of his own work is not by any means an ah-hah! moment for the reader.

What Doherty does supply is an excellent bibliography. Reading this book put me on to James Gleick's bio of Feynman, James Watson's simultaneously wonderful and infuriating 'The Double Helix' and a terrific book about the 1918-19 flu epidemic by John M Barry that I plan to re-read as soon as I get some breathing space.
3 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Beginner's Guide To Winning The Nobel Prize.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.