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Peter Doherty

The collective dislocation that followed the advent of Covid-19 generated (and continues to generate) a slew of books intended to make sense of the turmoil. Encompassing Slavoj Žižek’s anti-capitalist treatise Pandemic! (2020) and books for children such as Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar’s While We Can’t Hug (2020), the responses have ranged from considered attempts to apprehend the pandemic’s scientific, political, and social parameters to those designed to do little more than catch the Covid wave before it passes. Regrettably, Peter Doherty’s An Insider’s Plague Year tends more towards the latter.

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'Knowledge', asserts Peter Doherty, quoting Francis Bacon, 'is power'. Since 1996, having demonstrated his outstanding Nobel Prize contribution to the discovery of the nature of cellular immune defence and continuing research on viruses and immunity, this famous medical veterinarian has produced four books to enlighten a general audience on such matters as pandemics ...

Why would a famous virologist and immunologist (and Nobel laureate) write a book linking birds, human diseases, and ecological degradation? The answer is partly that Peter Doherty obviously has a soft spot for birds and birdwatching. He argues that anyone with an enquiring mind and a natural history ...

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Peter Doherty, an Australian biomedical researcher, won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1996 and accordingly has substantial credibility among members of the international scientific community. This book, however, has been carefully crafted for a more general audience, and might well be enjoyed while sitting (hatted and sunscreened) on a beach. The blurb suggests that the contents provide an entertaining, albeit informative, account of the ways in which natural resources such as air, water and hydrocarbons have been harnessed by human ingenuity. But Doherty has a more serious intent, which he deliberately takes time to unfold. The subtext to his light-hearted explanations of how candles, light bulbs and refrigerators work, and how we use a variety of fuels to heat, cool and light our lives, is that this planet is running out of non-renewable energy sources. He suggests that we need to use brainpower and research to find alternatives sooner, not later, if we are to ensure the survival of our children.

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