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This Mortal Coil


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An entertaining, eye-opening work of popular history that illuminates how death has changed across time

About the Author

Andrew Doig is Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Manchester. He studied Natural Science and Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, and Biochemistry at Stanford University Medical School. He became a lecturer in Manchester in 1994, where he has been ever since. His research is on computational biology, neuroscience, dementia, developmental biology and proteins. This Mortal Coil is his first book.


You might expect a book on this morbid theme to be forbidding or sombre. This one is neither. Instead Mr Doig, a biochemist at the University of Manchester, tells an empowering story of human ingenuity * Economist *
Surprisingly upbeat . . . The chapters on plague are the most interesting in the book, perhaps because they are so resonant and show how lucky we are to live in the age of the vaccine . . . Each chapter looks at a cause of death, ranging from scurvy to car safety, alcoholism to yellow fever . . . Full of curious facts . . . Although the book is about death, Doig is optimistic. Look at how life expectancy has soared across the world and infant mortality rates have plummeted * The Times *
An absorbing read . . . A gripping and fascinating book; informative and seasoned with dry humour * Mail on Sunday *
Told in five acts like a Shakespearean tragedy, Andrew Doig's book considers our vulnerabilities and vices, from typhoid to tobacco . . . A compelling story that is made admirably accessible * Financial Times *
Fascinating, clear-eyed . . . Woven through are a series of brilliant anecdotes of individual experiments, inventions and lethal misfortunes . . . Doig's attention to detail, personable style and clear explanations make the book easily accessible . . . The obvious beauty of This Mortal Coil is that in being a history of death, it is also a history of life, and a brilliant, fascinating one at that * Scotsman *
An utterly fascinating history of death, this masterful volume traces changes in the causes of mortality over the centuries -- Waterstones
Rather than being a depressing read, the book actually gives a wonderful long-term perspective on our current situation, discussing plagues and famines of the past, living conditions and social organisation, and even looking at how causes of death might change in the future . . . This intriguing and detailed discussion of death and its causes provides a bedrock of context to look at how we might tackle mortality going forward . . . Oddly life-affirming * Big Issue *
Charts the fascinating history of how humans die ... Doig tells an uplifting tale of how human ingenuity over the past few thousand years has allowed more of us to survive, and survive longer -- Best Science Books of 2022 * Guardian *
From the black death to small pox, Andrew Doig's This Mortal Coil reminds us that some of humankind's most miraculous innovations - including vaccines, statistics and gene sequencing - arose from society's attempts to thwart death . . . It's hard to imagine a book with more relevant insights into how societies fail and succeed when navigating threats to life * City AM *
This is a book that deserves a wide and appreciative audience * Oldie *
The way we humans have died has changed profoundly over history: from famine and pestilence, to modern lifestyle diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. In this gripping book, Andrew Doig explores the fascinating biology of our own mortality and, crucially, what death can teach us about life -- Prof. Lewis Dartnell, author of ORIGINS: HOW THE EARTH SHAPED HUMAN HISTORY
Wry, insightful and optimistic, This Mortal Coil brings a compassionate yet amused eye to one of the last great taboos. Essential reading for us all -- Matthew Cobb, Baillie Gifford Prize-shortlisted author of THE IDEA OF THE BRAIN
Andrew Doig tackles the complex and unsettling history of mortality with matter of fact and clarity but also with tenderness and humanity. This is a remarkable debut interspersing history with science to create a mille feuille of what it means to be human -- Helen Carr, author of THE RED PRINCE and WHAT IS HISTORY, NOW?
This is a wonderful book: a history of life expectancy, of disease, of death, and of medicine all rolled up into one. An exceptional instance of a book with lots of statistics which is throughout an enthralling read. For anyone who wants to understand how we have come to live so long, and what we are likely to die of, this is a must read - and, since birth and death are the only things we all have in common, no subject could be more important to understand who we are and what will become of us -- David Wootton
The story of how we die is deeply entwined with all of science, technology, economics, global health, sociology and human behaviour - in other words, pretty much everything. Which amounts to a book that is profound and original -- Daniel M. Davis, author of THE BEAUTIFUL CURE and THE SECRET BODY
Big history meets biology in this meticulous chronicle of how death has shaped us, and how we have shaped it. Doig illuminates the historical and scientific idiosyncrasies behind our most universal experience explaining how, by trading plants and plagues, discovering continents and life-saving drugs, our collective past has determined our individual futures. If you're expecting a fascinating insight into why we die, This Mortal Coil delivers - but you'll also get an eye-opening account of how we've lived -- Andrew Steele, author of AGELESS
The most fascinating book I've read in a long time. As much about how we live as how we die -- Anna Mazzola, author of THE CLOCKWORK GIRL
In this detailed exploration of the many different ways in which human life can end, Andrew Doig takes us on a killer ride from the earliest systematic records of death, through the tremendous toll infection has had over history, to the ways in which we kill ourselves and others through drugs, pollution and motor vehicles. If you are dying to know how we die, this is the book for you -- John Tregoning, author of INFECTIOUS

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