Gene: An Intimate History, The

Siddhartha Mukherjee
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies—a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices. Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family—with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness—cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation—from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Morgan to Crick, Watson and Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome. As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome, The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2017-01-02
Tries to do too many things at once. Although I have 'The Emperor of All Maladies' I have not yet read it. But after hearing this book was on its way and managing to snag a copy relatively quickly I thought I'd just go ahead and read it while I had it and hold off on 'Emperor'.
 
Unfortunately it wasn't worth the wait. The book purports to be a look at the gene and our genetic information. How we discovered the gene, the implications of its discovery and what we can do as technology marches on plus a bit of his own family history and what genetics can mean for a family.
 
Instead the book is far too ambitious. It's a history, it's commentary, it's a family portrait, etc. If you have information on the history of the gene, evolution, etc. then you'll probably find some of the information repetitive. It's been awhile since I've had this and I did learn a bit. But as some reviewers note: as a non-science inclined person and being distant from that information as I've been out of school for awhile made this an extremely tough read. It needed better editing and I occasionally got the impression the author was a little too bogged down with the details and/or a bit too in love with his own writing.
 
In all honesty I found the parts concerning Mukherjee's family the most compelling. I enjoy when an author can tie this to personal experience and it also probably helped that I have some similar experiences and have had some of the same questions he had, especially towards the end when asking about how events affect his family and how things might have been different if certain scientific advances had been made sooner or if his family members had been born later. It appears I am a bit of an outlier in this as from other reviews most people didn't seem to enjoy that.
 
If you're a science/biology-inclined individual this could be a great read. I hesitate a bit on this rating because in some ways I thought this book actually shared some of the same problems of another book I just read with too much information and not enough editing. I think interest in the particular subject will also play a big part. The writing is a bit dense but the subject matter might be enough for some to get them to read it.
 
I borrowed it from the library and I'm glad I did. Put it on your list but don't feel bad if you have awhile to wait. It's not a must-read-right-now type of book. But I'll still check out his 'Emperor' since reviews that were down on this book said that book was much better.
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