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Clare Hall Book Club

Date: Thursday 4 April 2024, 8pm
Location: Clare Hall Meeting Room, Herschel Road, Cambridge CB3 9AL
Join the College’s Book Club as they discuss The Compatibility Gene by Daniel M. Davis.

The Compatibility Gene by Daniel M Davis is an elegantly written, unexpectedly gripping account of how scientists painstakingly unravelled the way in which a small group of genes (known as MHC genes) crucially influence, and unexpectedly interconnect, various aspects of our lives, from how well we fight off infection to how skilfully we find a mate. Lab work has rarely been made to seem more interesting or hero.

Nicola Davis, reviewing the book in The Times, writes that Davis “weaves a warm biographical thread through his tale of scientific discovery, revealing the drive and passion of those in the vanguard of research.” The tale of the pioneers such as Medawar is “fairly familiar but Davis’s readable narrative allows them to be seen afresh”. She finds the account more challenging as it approaches more recent discoveries, but with “plenty of rewarding moments”. Emily Banham, reviewing the book for Nature, notes that compatibility genes lie at the heart of our immune systems, playing a part in the success of skin grafts, pregnancy, and more.

The biologist Rebecca Nesbit, reviewing The Compatibility Gene for The Biologist, writes that Davis shares many stories of dedicated scientists, brought together by “a small cluster of ‘compatibility genes’ which play a large role in how we react to disease, and are central to how our immune systems work.” She notes that the book is as much about the people as the discoveries, but these are made worthwhile by the medical advances they keep producing, for example with possibilities for personalised medicine, as when people with one particular compatibility gene react adversely to an AIDS drug. She observes that all the same, he ends with the scientist’s favourite refrain: “more research needed”.

All College members are welcome to attend in-person, meeting in Clare Hall’s Meeting Room, or via Zoom. If you are not on the mailing list and would like to be, please send an email to, confirming your Clare Hall connection and putting the following as the email title: I would like to join the Book Club mailing list.

Learn more about the Book Club on this page.