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The Gene: An Intimate History

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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? Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraord 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? 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.

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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? Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraord 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? 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.

30 review for The Gene: An Intimate History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    I have this tendency, when I read a book as brilliantly informing as this one, to wipe the froth from my mouth, shuffle the pages of notes I've written contemporaneous to the reading, and plunge into the cocktail party which is this forum, grabbing each of you by the virtual lapels, and launching into a lecture about one of the hundreds of things I learned in the process. As if, you know, I missed some of the froth. So, imagine me back from some journey, casting pleasantries aside, and launching I have this tendency, when I read a book as brilliantly informing as this one, to wipe the froth from my mouth, shuffle the pages of notes I've written contemporaneous to the reading, and plunge into the cocktail party which is this forum, grabbing each of you by the virtual lapels, and launching into a lecture about one of the hundreds of things I learned in the process. As if, you know, I missed some of the froth. So, imagine me back from some journey, casting pleasantries aside, and launching wild-eyed and, yes, maybe a little frothy, insisting that you grasp the fraction of what I've learned via the fraction of my ability to explain, as if it is the most important thing in the world. Until next week's book and next week's cocktail party, that is. Passionate and off-putting. Aware, but unable to stop myself. Yup, that's me. But I have a defense. There's probably a gene that makes me so. Seems I got more than blue eyes from Mom, more than dark hair from Dad. There are many chambers of the human heart and many caverns in the human mind, but they are all there somewhere pinned onto the genome which is Tony. --This book is worth the read just for the section on sickle-cell anemia, or the one explaining the genetic basis for sexual identity, or the story of Mitochondrial Eve. --Did you know that when the Allied forces entered the Nazi death camps, they found an inordinate number of twins among the survivors. This was so because Mengele was fascinated by Zwillinge? These survivors, sharing as they did identical genetic markers, served as the subjects of much subsequent genetic research. --The problem with racial discrimination . . . is not the inference of a person's race from their genetic characteristics. It is quite the opposite: it is the inference of a person's characteristics from their race. But, I've now learned, "the vast proportion of genetic diversity (85 to 90 percent) occurs within so-called races (i.e., within Asians or Africans) and only a minor proportion (7 percent) between racial groups..." --I knew the story of Carrie Buck, legally sterilized after an Opinion by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stating "Three generations of imbeciles is enough." But Mukherjee lets that story hover over us as he takes us to a lecture he attended in 2013, a lecture given by a fifteen year-old girl named Erika, who suffered from a severe, progressive degenerative disease, causing muscle tremors that progressively worsened. She tried new drugs, clinical trials. Nothing worked. Yet there she was speaking to this hall of scientists, "by far, among the most articulate, introspective teenagers that I have ever encountered." A prenatal test to find the mutations that caused Erika's condition is theoretically possible. We could, bluntly, prevent future Erikas. Mukherjee lets us ponder this as he watches Erika being pushed by her mother across a parking lot in her wheelchair, "her scarf billowing behind her, like an epilogue." It's that last little bit, that fragment of a quote like a piece of DNA, that I hope exposes why this book had such a purchase on me. It's not just that Mukherjee can take a very complicated scientific subject and make it understandable. It's that he does so with really gorgeous writing. At one point he is explaining how 'we' got here, how 'humans' began on an arid mesa in South Africa and, from there, "went west, as young men often do..." The migrants made it to the northeastern edge of Ethiopia or Egypt, "where the Red Sea narrows to a slitlike strait." And then he writes this: There was no one there to part the ocean. We do not know what drove these men and women to fling themselves across the water, or how they managed to cross it. . . What is certain is that every perilous ocean-crossing left hardly any survivors--perhaps as few as six hundred men and women. Europeans, Asians, Australians, and Americans are the descendants of these drastic bottlenecks, and this corkscrew of history too has left its signature in our genomes. In a genetic sense, nearly all of us who emerged out of Africa, gasping for land and air, are even more closely yoked than previously imagined. We were on the same boat, brother. The same but different; different but the same. I'll stop there, having no doubt expressed my enthusiasm better than my understanding of human genetics. I'll stop even though the clicker below says I have 15,480 characters left, or about 500 less than the number of genes in one of my cells. But one of the truly entertaining parts of this book was the author's use of quotes. So, since I'm feeling epigrammy, I'll add my favorites to the comments. Bye. I have to go.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Aditi

    Hello bookish peeps, Another one of my review has been posted on our country's largest daily newspaper's website, The Times of India. "This book is the story of the birth, growth, and future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science: the "gene," the fundamental unit of heredity, and the basic unit of all biological information. I" ~Siddhartha Mukherjee The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner, Siddhartha Mukherjee, is back with another incredibly well-written book, The Gene: A Hello bookish peeps, Another one of my review has been posted on our country's largest daily newspaper's website, The Times of India. "This book is the story of the birth, growth, and future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science: the "gene," the fundamental unit of heredity, and the basic unit of all biological information. I" ~Siddhartha Mukherjee The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner, Siddhartha Mukherjee, is back with another incredibly well-written book, The Gene: An Intimate History that unfolds the extensive and profound knowledge and research about human genome and its genetics that reflects beyond the definition of both basic and advanced science. The above quote by the author, himself, simply outlines the story line of this in-depth and thorough yet intimidating book about genes. Since the primeval times, it has been observed that living organisms can pass down attributes to their offspring, who can then pass down to their own children and so on. The author begins his book with Gregor Johann Mendel, a scientist, who observed the nature of genes in pea plants by isolating them to discover the transmissible characteristics in pea plants. Thomas Hunt Morgan, who in the early 20th century observed a study on fruit flies to state the real location of genes in a living organism's cell. The author has mathematically noted down each milestone in genetic science in this book, rather descriptively. But with all this, the author ensures that his readers do not lose their focus from the fact that study of genes is not anymore just a progressive or evolutionary aspect in science and medicines, rather it is a study and observation about how an individual is insufficiently deciphering the technological advancement in the science of genetics as well as the study of oneself. Siddhartha Mukherjee sweepingly shares his own Bengali-family medical and genetic history through this book. This includes his father with a genetically challenged brain illness, his mother and her twin sisters and the sudden onset of schizophrenia among his cousins and uncles, thereby inducing fear for the future generations and shock and knowledge about the unknown genetic defects underlying in his family history of hereditary. The author's writing has a lot of gravity, meaning and research affixed with true facts, that might or might not be able to bring a change among the readers to look at this scientific study of genes and its underlying messages in a different way, but it will definitely open the tight-shut windows about human genome in the minds of the readers. In a crux, the book will gracefully enlighten the readers. The narrative is articulate and I believe the book is written in a way that even if you are not accustomed to big scientific and medical terminologies, they can easily be comprehended. Please follow the link below to read my review: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li... Thank you!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Petra Eggs

    I listened to the BBC abridged audio book as I often do before ordering it. I like hardbacks so I try and be sure first I want to read it. I didn't like it enough. I loved The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer but couldn't feel that deep interest with this one. Now it could be that the book is fantastic and it had a lousy editor at the BBC. Oliver Sacks autobiography, On the Move: A Life is a 10 star book, but the abridged BBC one is terrible, mostly the wrong episodes chosen. But st I listened to the BBC abridged audio book as I often do before ordering it. I like hardbacks so I try and be sure first I want to read it. I didn't like it enough. I loved The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer but couldn't feel that deep interest with this one. Now it could be that the book is fantastic and it had a lousy editor at the BBC. Oliver Sacks autobiography, On the Move: A Life is a 10 star book, but the abridged BBC one is terrible, mostly the wrong episodes chosen. But still, the book was full of Mukherjee's usual overly-detailed extremely long passages and I couldn't get anything from them, so ... on to the next book. (But I might still order it in hardback because I think this is one of the books I might be wrong about)>

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ashlula

    In this beautifully written, vivid history of genetics; Mukherjee takes us by the hand and walks us through the hall of fame of all the people who are the reason for modern biology as we study it today. His picturesque descriptions make the book a joy to read. Starting with Mendel and ending with embryonic stem cell research and beyond; the fascinating story of genetic research is given in the book. There are life stories of many exceptional scientists. Unfortunately many examples of bad science In this beautifully written, vivid history of genetics; Mukherjee takes us by the hand and walks us through the hall of fame of all the people who are the reason for modern biology as we study it today. His picturesque descriptions make the book a joy to read. Starting with Mendel and ending with embryonic stem cell research and beyond; the fascinating story of genetic research is given in the book. There are life stories of many exceptional scientists. Unfortunately many examples of bad science and faux-scientists can also be found. I am particularly glad that Rosalind Franklin (who died at age 36 due to ovarian cancer; most likely because of Xray exposure from her experiments) and her work (without which DNA structure would not have been understood) is given the importance and acknowledgement in this book. Students of medicine, biology and related fields as well as anyone with an interest in the history and future of science will enjoy and learn a lot from The Gene.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Cannot begin to tell you what I learned from this fascinating study of The Gene but I gained great insight from the thorough research of Siddhartha Mukherjee. I am destined for a second read/listen. The audio narration by Dennis Boutsikaris made this compelling, very well paced with a distinct and pleasant tonal quality. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    I'm not going to lie, there were some pages of this book where all my mind saw was 'science science science science' etc etc over and over again instead of the actual words which apparently make sense to people cleverer than me. Happily though, the vast majority of the book is written in a more engaging and approachable fashion. Nevertheless, it clearly represents a vast amount of research, spanning the field from Aristotle to the present day. It plots the path of ever increasing knowledge and m I'm not going to lie, there were some pages of this book where all my mind saw was 'science science science science' etc etc over and over again instead of the actual words which apparently make sense to people cleverer than me. Happily though, the vast majority of the book is written in a more engaging and approachable fashion. Nevertheless, it clearly represents a vast amount of research, spanning the field from Aristotle to the present day. It plots the path of ever increasing knowledge and more specific theories about the means of heredity. Detailed descriptions of research, the individuals and teams who undertook it, every step forward (and backwards), the social, moral, scientific, and political implications of new information and techniques- all these things and more Mukherjee has addressed in this biography of the gene. His evaluative skill is piercing and never more so when looking at the dangers inherent in being able to modify our very nature. Of course, eugenics and the Nazis are covered, but he casts the net wider, into forced sterilisations in America and movements in the UK to create 'better' people. Not only that, he investigates the presence of these issues in contemporary society, asking whether our increasing capacity to make changes to our genes is balanced by a real understanding of the ethical implications. Yet he doesn't fail to point out how the lives of many people with certain genetic conditions have been vastly improved by the new science. As with so much of technological and scientific advancement, ideas about morality are inherently intertwined with the way it is actually used. It was a compelling read, though challenging. Very much worth taking the time to understand an area that will, I think, come to affect our lives in more and more ways as the years pass. Many thanks to Random House/Vintage and Netgalley for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    Thanks goes to Netgalley and a wonderful author for a wonderfully told series of stories within the world of genetics. I was worried, briefly, by the insistence of bringing Aristotle's take on the genome, or the recapitulation of many of the grandfathers of the science, such as Mendel and Darwin, but the way that these otherwise well-known personages were brought alive to the page was more of a story than a dry recounting. Even so, I wasn't prepared for what was soon to come. I became engrossed in Thanks goes to Netgalley and a wonderful author for a wonderfully told series of stories within the world of genetics. I was worried, briefly, by the insistence of bringing Aristotle's take on the genome, or the recapitulation of many of the grandfathers of the science, such as Mendel and Darwin, but the way that these otherwise well-known personages were brought alive to the page was more of a story than a dry recounting. Even so, I wasn't prepared for what was soon to come. I became engrossed in the history of American Eugenics, and even more so in Germany's frightful improvements, all of which painted the history of the science in quite a dark, and ignorant, light. Fortunately for all of us, Crick, Watson, and Ferdinand come out swinging and we can see this all as a heroic step forward... even considering the fact that Ferdinand never got to see her work truly recognized. From here on out, we've got truly wonderful tales of Beck and the birth of recombinant DNA, scientists self-policing, the rise of multinational bio-engineering firms, AIDS, gene therapies, genome mapping, and of course cloning and stem-cell blocking, and each and every one of these stories are bright and very readable. And what's more, it's always informative and it's always interesting. It even draws us in to the author's own deep and emotional familial history and his own drive to understand. I'll make no bones about it: I was moved. I've read more than a handful of books on genetics in the past, and while some were quite good and some were sometimes mesmerizingly boring, I think this one has got to be the most readable, grab you on the human level, and most in depth survey of the entire field that I've ever read. So many disparate characteristics managed to encode the proteins of the narrative, and no one could be happier than me to see such a healthy and shining phenotypical expression be borne from a popular book. It's classy and smart. Very smart. In fact, it's pretty much a must-have if you're a science-history buff bringing us up to the cutting-edge present and want a few questions for the future. :)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    Not half as good a narrative as The Emperor of All Maladies, but still a good account of the Gene's journey and where it is going. It will hold your attention even if you have read multiple accounts of the progress of Genetics such as Watson's, because most histories of the Gene focus on the Genome project or on the early phase of discovery of genetics, Mukherjee instead focuses on the applications that are currently ongoing and how those fields have developed. My only complaint: the focus of th Not half as good a narrative as The Emperor of All Maladies, but still a good account of the Gene's journey and where it is going. It will hold your attention even if you have read multiple accounts of the progress of Genetics such as Watson's, because most histories of the Gene focus on the Genome project or on the early phase of discovery of genetics, Mukherjee instead focuses on the applications that are currently ongoing and how those fields have developed. My only complaint: the focus of the book is on the Human Gene and hence on Medicine, while the story of the Gene is surely about much more than medicine - extending to Food, Evolution, Economics and perhaps Politics - the Gene has a very wide role to play in our future and we need to develop perspective on that future today. Mukherjee gives a glimpse of where Medicine is going, but perhaps could also have shown us where We are going.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This book is a skillfully crafted combination of science history, character sketches, and personal encounters by the author's extended family with a history of mental illness. The end result maintains the interest of the reader in a subject that could have been a lot less interesting in the hands on another writer. Most of the book is an account of the history of human advances in the understanding of how heritable characteristics are passed through multiple biological generations. Toward the end This book is a skillfully crafted combination of science history, character sketches, and personal encounters by the author's extended family with a history of mental illness. The end result maintains the interest of the reader in a subject that could have been a lot less interesting in the hands on another writer. Most of the book is an account of the history of human advances in the understanding of how heritable characteristics are passed through multiple biological generations. Toward the end of the book the author explores the more ambiguous contributions of nature, nurture and chance in the destiny of biological life. Also some speculation is made on the future possibilities of gene manipulation and repair. The author's discussion of the complexities of sexual identity was particularly poignant in light of recent political controversies in the USA regarding transexuals. This section of the book should be required reading for legislators who think that the determination of sex at birth is final. Below are some quotations that caught my eye. I've preceded each with my introductory comment: I feel sorry of Darwin in his efforts to defend his theory of survival of the fittest as the driving force in the evolution of species. He didn't understand the rules of genetics and thus didn't have the needed information to explain why unusual beneficial genetic traits were not lost through cross breeding. The following quotation describes how close Darwin came to finding the needed information. Instead the significance of Mendel's findings remained unnoticed for four decades.Had Darwin looked carefully through the books in his voluminous library he might of found a reference to an obscure paper by a little known Botanist from Brno, unassumingly titled "Experiments in Plant Hibernation" and published in a scarcely known journal in 1866. The paper was written in dense German and packed with the kind of mathematical tables that Darwin particularly despised. Even so Dawin came tantalizing close to reading it. In the early 1870s pouring through a book on plant hybrids he made extensive hand written notes on pages 50 , 51, 53, and 54, but mysteriously skipped page 52 where the Brno paper of pea hybrids was discussed in detail. If Darwin had actually read it, particularly as he was writing "Variation" and formulating pangenesis, this study might have provided the final critical insight to understand his own theory of evolution. He would have been fascinated by its implications, moved by the tenderness of it labor, and struck by its strange and explanatory power. Darwin's incisive intellect would have quickly grasped its implications for the understanding of evolution.The following summary of the Nazi and Soviets genetic programs during WWII shows how things can go astray when genetics is made to fit political dogma.The Nazis believing in absolute genetic immutability—a Jew is a Jew—had resorted to eugenics to change the structure of their population. The Soviets, believing in absolute genetic reprogrammability—anyone is everyone—could eradicate all distinctions and thus achieve a radical collective good. One positive contribution of the Nazis is that they totally discredited eugenics programs.The mark of Nazis genetics remains like an indelible scar. … This perhaps was the final contribution of Nazism to genetics. It placed the ultimate stamp of shame on eugenics. The horror of Nazi eugenics inspired a cautionary tale prompting a global reexamination of the ambitions that had spurred the effort. Around the world eugenic programs came to a shamefaced halt. The following quotation is addressing the differences between identical twins. I saved it because of the three adjectives modifying "events." I might need those words someday to explain why I'm surprised. What causes the difference? Forty-three studies performed over two decades have revealed a powerful and consistent answer: unsystematic, idiosyncratic, serendipitous events.Genetic markers have been identified that predict differing abilities to handle stress. The following is an interesting discussion of what could be done with that information. It is as if resilience itself has a genetic core. Some humans are born resilient but are less responsive to interventions, while others are born sensitive but more likely to respond to changes in their environments. The idea of a resilience gene has entranced social engineers. … "Should we seek to identify the most susceptible children and disproportionately target them when it comes to investing scarce intervention and service dollars? I believe the answer is yes. Some people are … like delicate orchids, … they quickly wither when exposed to distress and depravation but blossom if given a lot of care and support. Others are more like dandelions. They prove resilient to the negative effects of adversity but at the same time do not particularly benefit from positive experiences. By identifying these delicate orchid versus dandelion children by gene profiling … societies might achieve vastly more efficient targeting of scarce resources."For many years geneticists couldn't find a way to perform targeted gene repair. The following is an interesting summary of the author's description of how yogurt engineers found a bacterium capable of defending itself from hostile viruses by a clever method that could also be borrowed by geneticists to target specific places on a gene and make repairs. Only a handful of such instances of scientific serendipity have occurred in the history of biology. An arcane microbial defense devised by microbes discovered by yogurt engineers and reprogrammed by RNA biologist has created a trap door to transformative technology that geneticists had sought for so longingly for decades. A method to achieve directed efficient and sequence specific modification of the human genome. The following short review is from PageADay Book Lover's Calendar for January 19, 2018: Siddhartha Mukherjee Won the Pulitzer Prize and legions of devoted readers with his biography of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies. He brings the same depth of knowledge and personal touch to the story of the human gene. Covering everything from how Aristotle and Darwin understood genetics to the rnodern phenomenon of mapping the genome, The Gene prepares readers to understand the ethical questions surrounding genetics today. Fascinating, accessible, and timely. THE GENE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY, by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, 2016)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "We seek constancy in heredity--and find its opposite: variation. Mutants are necessary to maintain the essence of our selves." - Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene I've owned Mukherjee's other book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, for years and have consistently found rational reasons to not read it. So, I'm not sure what made me pick up this book first. Perhaps, it was a friend who prompted me. Perhaps, too, was my tendency to come late to authors and read them backwards (rNA?). "We seek constancy in heredity--and find its opposite: variation. Mutants are necessary to maintain the essence of our selves." - Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene I've owned Mukherjee's other book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, for years and have consistently found rational reasons to not read it. So, I'm not sure what made me pick up this book first. Perhaps, it was a friend who prompted me. Perhaps, too, was my tendency to come late to authors and read them backwards (rNA?). Perhaps, there is a gene somewhere that always pushes me read an author's first, great novel late. Don't know. What I do know is I was BLOWN away by this book. It was, first to last page, intensely interesting, it flowed well, and in parts it was damn near poetry. Every day I ended up reading more than I planned for that day. I couldn't put it down. Just like it is sometimes amazing that a fruit fly, a virus, or man can come from an arrangement of just 4 nucleotides in DNA (ATGC), it often amazes me that 26 letters in our alphabet can express the poetry of E.E. Cummings and the prose of a writer like Mukherjee. There were some experimental chapters that didn't resonate quite as well, but these were minor dings on a nearly perfect work of narrative nonfiction. Overall, the book reminded me a bit of Wright's The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology or Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb. It easy sits among the very best in science writing I've read, covering genetics and the gene from Darwin to CRISPR technology. As someone who has Type 1 diabetes, RA, Graves disease, and Marfan syndrome, I've always been fascinated by genes the history of genetics (Yes, I'm exist uncomfortably in the shallow end of my family's gene pool). I've actually had my skin punched for genetic tests in the late 80s by Dr. Reed E. Pyeritz at Johns Hopkins. So, discussions in this book about Marfan Syndrome and Johns Hopkins' Moore Clinic hit REALLY close to home. After reading 'The Gene' I'm now a HUGE Mukherjee fan, and have moved 'The Emperor of All Maladies' to my bedside table and will be jumping into that book soon (sometimes, it seems, we can act rationally just by moving cancer closer to us).

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer's Prize winning book, "The Emperor of All Maladies" scared the hell out of me right from the 'get go'....when I read that "1 in 4 people will get cancer in your lifetime". Mukherjee dives right in again, ( wasting no time), in "The Gene". We first learn that mental illness has been in Mukherjee's family for at least two generations. He shares personally with us about 4 different relatives: 2 cousins and two uncles -- ( from his father's side), whose minds were crumb Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer's Prize winning book, "The Emperor of All Maladies" scared the hell out of me right from the 'get go'....when I read that "1 in 4 people will get cancer in your lifetime". Mukherjee dives right in again, ( wasting no time), in "The Gene". We first learn that mental illness has been in Mukherjee's family for at least two generations. He shares personally with us about 4 different relatives: 2 cousins and two uncles -- ( from his father's side), whose minds were crumbling. --- Each with a little different story. It's clear Mukherjee isn't removed from his research in any shape or form. There was even a time when Mukherjee himself went through troubled period - as a teenager. He stopped talking to his parents for six months, refused to turn in school homework, and threw books in the trash. Filled with anxiety, his father took him to a doctor fearing his son was losing his mind ( fearing another Mukherjee bites the dust). Years later, when Mukherjee met Sarah, ( his wife today), he warned her about the heredity component that lurked behind his family history. In 2009, Swedish researchers published and enormous international study involving thousands of families and tens of thousands of men and women. It was discovered - with striking evidence that bipolar disease and schizophrenia shared strong genetic link. Questions that lingered in Mukherjee' mind at the start of his research was ...( looking at each his cousins and uncles), if the illnesses are genetic, why were some family members spared? (Mukherjee' father's sister had been spared) What 'triggers' had unveiled these predispositions? How much arose from 'nature' and how much was due to environmental 'nurture'. Also, was Mukherjee a carrier? What if he could know the precise nature of this genetic flaw? Would he test himself? Would he inform his daughters? If technologies were available -- who would control them and their safety? Part I is about "the missing" science of heredity ....discovering and rediscovering genes.. dated from 1865 to 1935. He talks about theories from Aristotle and Pythagoras....and what each of them had right and what they had wrong. Pythagoras's theory was that sperm carried all information to make a new human. Aristotle's theory was that heredity was carried in the form of messages to create materials ..( "it was the hand that carried the instructions to mold an embryo"). -- In time, both theories were demolished. Mukherjee continues to describe how past prominent scientists, physicians, philosophers, historians, sociologists, anthropologist, biologists, linguists, theologist, etc. understood the function of the gene.....and how many of these educators fought furiously over the question of human origin. Charles Darwin, for example, gave rise to the most important synthesis in modern biology and the most powerful understanding of human heredity. --- yet here we are today in 2016-- and Mukherjee is all about the future - medical advances. I'm beginning to see why this book is important. Embryology, inherited genes, chromosomes, .....so much information to keep taking in. Genetic information could be mixed, matched and swapped. As a reader...about half way through the book -- it's easy to feel exhausted. I put the book down... Made some tea... and listened to to Siddhartha Mukherjee do a TED talk. His talk recharged my energy... I began to see the larger purpose of understanding what past experts believed - to learn about what their work contributed. It's only until really being able to see how we've been treating disease in the past -- can we begin to comprehend the re-organization of treating disease in the future. Mukherjee presented the idea that it's possible the gene will cure disease - rather than a pill. This is a challenging book to read--yet fascinating -- not as hard to understand as one might think...just hard to stay with all the research. I needed breaks. ( I read other fiction stories at the same time).... but this book is looks at all sides of genetics: genetic diversity, morality, ...( such as stem cell research -and eugenics)... -and what about predicting the future from genes. ..and alternating the destiny through genetic manipulation. Medical advances seem to be moving faster than the speed of light. 11 months ago, I had a complete ankle replacement (a somewhat new and complicated surgery). I'm out hiking the hilly trails once again. Given how thankful I am for a working walking foot, I read this book with a hopeful fresh spirit for our future in the area of medical advancements. Thank You Scribner Publishing, Netgalley, and Siddhartha Mukherjee

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emer

    'The Gene: an intimate history' is a most readable story about what it means to be human. It is a book that attempts to shine a light on the complex and often fraught history of understanding heredity. The book is laid out in a relatively easy to follow format with a writing style suited to those without a scientific background but with a keen interest in science. What makes this very readable for the non-scientist is how the author relates the history of the gene, determining the human genome a 'The Gene: an intimate history' is a most readable story about what it means to be human. It is a book that attempts to shine a light on the complex and often fraught history of understanding heredity. The book is laid out in a relatively easy to follow format with a writing style suited to those without a scientific background but with a keen interest in science. What makes this very readable for the non-scientist is how the author relates the history of the gene, determining the human genome and the advancements in gene therapy with his own family story of mental illness. He also carefully chooses case studies which humanise the face of genetic research and helps to pose questions about ethics and scientific responsibilities while demonstrating the positive advances made by the scientific community. The book starts off with the workings of Gregor Mendel. Anyone with secondary level/high school biology will no doubt be familiar with Mendelian genetics and will recall their days of first creating punnet squares in science class!! The book follows on from these early days through to the dawn of the eugenics era and how it so easily and chillingly turned into genocide with the rise of Nazism. A frequent motif throughout the book is focusing on the scientists behind the research and some of their actions which can best be described as being soap opera worthy!! It is this type of storytelling that provides the lay reader with moments of respite from the more technically heavy detail. People will no doubt be familiar with the testy relationship between the founding fathers of DNA structure, Watson and Crick, and Rosalind Franklin whose work was instrumental in their determination of said structure. More recent soap opera worthy stories surround the Human Genome Project with private enterprise facing off against publicly funded research. As this is a book describing the history of the gene there is a lot of science terminology. It is unavoidable. In my opinion I think it was handled as expertly as possible and I felt that there were sufficient explanations of the scientific processes behind the ever advancing technologies. I should however point out that my background is in scientific research and therefore none of the processes and themes described therein were new to me, but as I read I firmly kept the perspective of a non-scientist in mind with regards to my review of the book. The chronological style of the book helped to layer up the information learned piece by piece and I felt this was so skilfully done that I wished I had read this book as a young undergraduate coming to grips with simple genetics. I think it would have made excellent supplemental reading in my early undergraduate studies because of this, and the pop-culture style of the book, which would have made a refreshing change from some of my more stilted text books. And therefore, I would highly recommend this book as additional reading to any science student requiring an understanding of genetics within their first year of their degree course. I was however, somewhat disappointed with the coverage and explanations given to the topic of epigenetics. This was the weakest aspect of the book and needed to be further explored to provide a more complete view of current genetics in my opinion. However, this book still felt very relevant. It was more or less completed in the spring of 2015 and the author had stayed relatively up to date with his references. The last section of the book was excellently laid out and I thought gave the facts of current gene therapies and gene targeting with minimal bias. Other buzz-worthy topics mentioned in the book which will no doubt be of interest to many include discussions regarding gender and sexual identity, IVF treatments, genetic screening (breast cancer, CF, Huntington's) and targeted gene therapies to name but a few. Overall this was a very enjoyable read and while it won't be an easy read for anyone without a scientific background I would still heartily recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about genes and heredity and who especially wants to inform themselves about controversial topics such as genetic screening, stem cell research and the tangible possibilities of future manipulation of our genome. The book ends with a warning for the future about the responsibility of scientists and society at large when it comes to the negative possibilities of genetic intervention. But an infinitely deeper quandary is raised when an intelligent organism learns to write its own instructions. If genes determine the nature and fate of an organism, and if organisms now begin to determine the nature and fate of their genes, then a circle of logic closes on itself. Once we start thinking of genes as destiny, manifest, then it is inevitable to begin imagining the human genome as manifest destiny. When we claim to find “genes for” certain human features or functions, it is by virtue of defining that feature narrowly. It makes sense to define “genes for” blood type or “genes for” height since these biological attributes have intrinsically narrow definitions. But it is an old sin of biology to confuse the definition of a feature with the feature itself. If we define “beauty” as having blue eyes (and only blue eyes), then we will, indeed, find a “gene for beauty.” If we define “intelligence” as the performance on only one kind of problem in only one kind of test, then we will, indeed, find a “gene for intelligence.” The genome is only a mirror for the breadth or narrowness of human imagination. It is Narcissus, reflected. four stars *A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Random House UK: Vintage Publishing, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    The dude who wrote Emperor of all Maladies is back with a prequel and it's good! It starts with some history - a little Darwin and a lot of Mendel, the monk who spent his whole life geeking out over pea plants, and who I remember as being the most boring part of a very boring 9th grade biology class. (Why is high school so awful at making science interesting? It's so interesting!) And some other, lesser-known characters. This is what Mukherjee did in Emperor of Maladies, too: the history of resea The dude who wrote Emperor of all Maladies is back with a prequel and it's good! It starts with some history - a little Darwin and a lot of Mendel, the monk who spent his whole life geeking out over pea plants, and who I remember as being the most boring part of a very boring 9th grade biology class. (Why is high school so awful at making science interesting? It's so interesting!) And some other, lesser-known characters. This is what Mukherjee did in Emperor of Maladies, too: the history of research into a thing. He's good at making it interesting - and he reads a lot of books, so you never know when all of a sudden he's gonna cite Tarzan of the Apes. That's a great bonus for those of us who are book nerds first, science nerds later. Then it goes into actual DNA stuff with Watson & Crick etc., and here we get into the realm of "There's really no way for me to intuitively grasp any of this," so it's a little tough going for me but I get it a little, I guess. And in the last third, we talk about all the stuff you're really curious about with genes: - If we're all getting DNA tests when we're pregnant, are we actually engaging in a vague sort of opt-in eugenics? (Yes!) - Remember that book The Bell Curve? WTF was that? (It was bullshit!) - Is there a gay gene or what? (Sortof!) - What personality traits are genetically influenced? (Studies of identical twins separated at birth find that they tend to agree on sexual preference, religion and politics. That's bananas.) I raised an eyebrow a little when Mukherjee discussed kids with Downs Syndrome: he ascribes to them a genetic tendency toward sweetness, and my wife (who works with disabled children) adamantly denies that's a thing. She says Downs Syndrome kids are just kids; it's condescending and even damaging to insist they're naturally sweet, and also laughably incorrect if you've spent much time with Downs Syndrome kids. Science agrees with my wife, so now we're reminded that it's dangerous to pick any one person as one's authority on any one thing. Mukherjee is well-intentioned but what else is he wrong about? So, y'know, warning: no one's got all the answers. Mukherjee has many of them, though, and this is a fun-to-read and informative book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Atila Iamarino

    Um livro recomendadíssimo para qualquer um que quer entender mais sobre genética e DNA. Uma mistura de histórias pessoais e histórias de figuras importantes na descoberta do que são os genes e quais os papéis deles que torna o livro interessante para leigos e entendedores. A mesma receita que ele já deu muito certo em O Imperador de Todos Os Males, do mesmo autor, que ganhou o Pulitzer. Para leigos, boa parte das explicações são novas e (acredito) compreensíveis. Ele descreve grande parte dos ex Um livro recomendadíssimo para qualquer um que quer entender mais sobre genética e DNA. Uma mistura de histórias pessoais e histórias de figuras importantes na descoberta do que são os genes e quais os papéis deles que torna o livro interessante para leigos e entendedores. A mesma receita que ele já deu muito certo em O Imperador de Todos Os Males, do mesmo autor, que ganhou o Pulitzer. Para leigos, boa parte das explicações são novas e (acredito) compreensíveis. Ele descreve grande parte dos exemplos que vi durante meu curso de biologia molecular, o livro poderia ser material de curso de biomol sem muitas perdas e sem ser nada cansativo como o material tradicional costuma ser. Para quem já entende, a perspectiva histórica, relatos de quem foram ou como eram as pessoas por trás das descobertas que conhecemos e as discussões sobre ética são excelentes. Descobri muita coisa nova apesar de gostar e entender da área. Ponto mais forte: o Siddhartha Mukherjee tem formação médica e sua preocupação com os caminhos da eugenia e com as implicações e complicações da modificação genética de humanos, de testes de propensão para doença e outros são ótimos pontos para discussões de ética. Ponto mais fraco: talvez pela formação mais médica, alguns pontos históricos ou biológicos ficaram um pouco errados. Ele afirma que Darwin teve acesso aos textos de Mendel, mas até onde sei eram textos sobre cruzamento de plantas, não sobre os princípios da genética. E o único ponto conceitual que realmente me pegou, quando ele fala sobre epigenética, foca muito mais em uma noção já bem deixada de lado, a da regulação através das histonas, e não discute modificações que realmente ocorrem mais como a metilação do DNA. Nesse sentido, o Sobrevivência dos Mais Doentes (Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease) trata melhor, apesar de ser mais antigo.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Caterina

    4.5/5 But what is ”natural”? I wonder. On one hand: variation, mutation, change, inconstancy, divisibility, flux. And on the other, constancy, permanence, indivisibility, fidelity. Bhed. Abhed. It should hardly surprise us that DNA, the molecule of contradictions, encodes an organism of contradictions. . . . Our genome has negotiated a fragile balance between counterpoised forces, pairing strand with opposing strand, mixing past and future, pitting memory against desire. It is the most human of 4.5/5 But what is ”natural”? I wonder. On one hand: variation, mutation, change, inconstancy, divisibility, flux. And on the other, constancy, permanence, indivisibility, fidelity. Bhed. Abhed. It should hardly surprise us that DNA, the molecule of contradictions, encodes an organism of contradictions. . . . Our genome has negotiated a fragile balance between counterpoised forces, pairing strand with opposing strand, mixing past and future, pitting memory against desire. It is the most human of all things that we possess Its stewardship may be the ultimate test of knowledge and discernment for our species. Sura-na Bheda Pramaana Sunaavo; Bheda, Abheda, Pratham kara Jaano. Show me that you can divide the notes of a song; But first, show me that you can discern Between what can be divided And what cannot. — An anonymous musical composition inspired by a classical Sanskrit poem This wondrous journey through the history of genetics and genomics left me surprisingly hopeful and somehow less fearful of the future despite the potential risks of genomic technologies and the enormous changes Mukherjee foresees on the horizon, where “what can be divided and what cannot” is yet unknown. With a gentle, compassionate voice, an open mind, and a sense of humor (he’s unable to resist a groan-worthy literary pun) you would definitely want this man as your personal physician. Looking soberly at the risks and atrocities past, present, and (potential) future, he nevertheless exudes a calm and infectious sense of wonder, acceptance of life’s infinitely creative diversity, and careful hope for benefit to humankind. Aesthetic appreciation was no small part of my delight, not only in the writing but in the thrill of learning about the gene and the genome, the literal stuff of life. One semester in college I took a course in Ancient Greek Philosophy together with one in Modern Physics (relativity, quantum theory, etc.) delighting in the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern minds, each seeking the secrets of the universe in their own time. This time around, unplanned, I experienced similar juxtapositions of ancient and modern “seekers” by reading in parallel an imaginative analysis of the biblical origin story: The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. To my surprise and delight, both authors crammed their books with literary references. Shakespeare, Kafka, and especially Wallace Stevens were quoted in both tomes. And what a treat for my poetic imagination. Genesis. Gene-sis. DNA, the “script” of every living being on earth, begins to look to me like an unfurling scroll. On it are written the instructions for our creation in combinations of four letters: A, C, G and T. They could just as well be four musical notes playing the unique song of each individual being. (Surely some composers have taken inspiration from this?) Or the four letters in the traditional Hebrew Divine Name, creating infinite marvelous variations in its own image and likeness. And today I read in the news that some poet is genetically altering a bacteria to encode his own poetry into its genome. (“Translated” somehow into the four-letter code, I guess.) I found the storytelling in The Gene: An Intimate History compelling for the most part. With a delicate touch Mukherjee interwove his own family’s troubled medical history with tales of the scientists and their discoveries, from the unlikely father of genetics, the gentle monk Gregor Mendel and his almost unimaginably rigorous analyses and documentation of tens of thousands of meticulously cross-bred pea plants grown in his monastery garden (after his superior had nixed his similar attempts to cross-breed mice in his monastic cell) — to the recent discoveries by Jennifer Doudma and Emmanuelle Charpentier of CRISPR/Cas9 technologies that allow precise gene editing based on what bacteria naturally do to combat viruses. (This gave me a deeper understanding of current news stories.) A medical doctor, Mukherjee focused on the human medicine perspective — he doesn’t say much about genetically modified organisms in other contexts such as agriculture. As in my recent journey through the history of geological science with John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World series, there was no shortage of scientists behaving badly. For example, Mendel’s unique, groundbreaking work was suppressed (and plagiarized in part) by an envious scientist to whom Mendel had sent his paper — setting back science for 35 years until Mendel’s research was “discovered” after his death and widely published. And then there were the atrocities committed in the name of human improvement (sometimes) — from forced sterilizations of people on the basis of poverty or race in the United States, to the “final solution” of the Nazis and the “medical” experiments of Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. Could things like this be repeated? Maybe. Terrible things are happening now, Mukherjee contends: in his birth country of India and in China, tens of millions of girls are selectively aborted or removed from the human race by infanticide or exposure. As a caution to the world, Siddhartha Mukherjee dedicated this book to Carrie Buck, the first woman to be forcibly sterilized. Getting further into controversial territory, I was, perhaps naively, surprised and dismayed to learn that the current state of genetic medicine is as primitive as it is, consisting primarily of identifying genetic abnormalities in utero and offering the option of terminating the pregnancy. Ostensibly this is done only by choice, and only for only the most extreme medical conditions that would cause great suffering, but as Mukherjee pointed out, reality is a different story. He also points out the slippery quality of the concept of "great suffering": -- what is it, and who decides? Another major current application of genetic medicine is through in-vitro fertilization, when embryos can be genetically tested and selected or not selected for implantation. Mukherjee discusses some of the ethical concerns with these approaches. What about actually curing genetic diseases? So far, the dangers and technical difficulties of making targeted genetic changes, including fatal screw-ups by overeager experimenters, have held back progress, but Mukherjee believes we are on the cusp of seeing this change, although he cautions that this approach may only apply to conditions that are traceable to a single gene or a simple combination of a few genes -- and we do not know whether changing those genes will also change other, desirable characteristics. We do not know what can be divided and what cannot. Mukherjee tries to speak evenhandedly and sensitively about the dilemmas of genetic “abnormalities” — or, more neutrally, genetic "variations" — which can sometimes also be gifts. For instance the common co-occurrence of genius and mental illness (as occurred in his family) can be traced to genetics and isn’t just the stuff of legends and movies. And most of the time, genes only indicate a potential that may or may not be realized. One special case that is more genetically clear-cut than most, but ethically less so, is Down syndrome. Even this seemingly straightforward chromosomal variation can result in a wide range of outcomes for people born with this condition -- some people born with Down syndrome can have relatively healthy, relatively independent lives. Mukherjee also points out (at least twice) the sweet, almost angelic disposition of people with Down’s syndrome, implying how much would be lost if they were all eliminated from the human race as "undesirable". (Having worked and lived for two summers with Down syndrome youth, I agree.) On the other hand, Mukherjee is sensitive to women who may have reason to make another choice. He mentions the case of a woman who, after having a child with Down syndrome who suffered greatly from medical conditions, underwent many painful surgeries, and died young, decides to abort a subsequent Down fetus. (I couldn’t help but contrast Mukherjee’s sensitive perspective to Richard Dawkins who has said that a woman would be immoral not to abort a fetus with Down syndrome. I find that horrible, and so much for women’s autonomy, some men can’t resist telling us what to do even without a religion to blame it on.) In short, I recommend this book to those interested in a human-focused book on the science of genetics and genomics in pretty close to its current state. I will definitely read Mukherjee’s cancer book now, and I’m also looking forward to reading a new (2018) book with an epigenetic focus: She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions and Potentialities of Heredity by Carl Zimmer (also new to me). Since finishing this book I've also listened to several extended interviews of Dr. Mukherjee on YouTube about this book and his early book on cancer; my overall impression is of a humble, thoughtful man who cares deeply for us humans.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I began this book knowing practically nothing about genes and chromosomes. My ability to follow it from start to finish without any serious problems is amazing! The author is clear, and he captivates a reader’s interest all the way through. Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, begins with the history of genetics, moves forward to our capabilities today and what lies ahead in the future. He makes the science relevant to modern-day readers. He relates how genetics has impacted on his own I began this book knowing practically nothing about genes and chromosomes. My ability to follow it from start to finish without any serious problems is amazing! The author is clear, and he captivates a reader’s interest all the way through. Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, begins with the history of genetics, moves forward to our capabilities today and what lies ahead in the future. He makes the science relevant to modern-day readers. He relates how genetics has impacted on his own family troubled by schizophrenia, and he does this in such a way that science on a general level also becomes personal. He discusses the origin of human species and our dispersion over the globe, and then what this says about the similarities and differences between races. He shows how historical developments, such as eugenics and Hitler's racial policies, revolve around our ability to shape humankind. Each topic that he shifts to is made relevant to people today and ties the reader's interest. Who isn’t drawn in by twin studies? Who isn’t curious to know what very possibly lies ahead in the future? I appreciate that even philosophical aspects are touched upon. The author neither simplifies the complexities of the science nor does he make the topic incomprehensible for a layman. For me there was a good balance of specific scientific details and clarifying summations. Both how history has shaped our current knowledge and what most probably lies ahead is explored. While I did not understand in detail every step of all the research projects, I could follow the gist of what was being said. There were points where I felt the sentences could possibly have been clearer and where I had to seek further information on the web, but this was not often. Having read the book, I am by no means now an expert, but I feel I have a better comprehension and a solid base to stand on. The audiobook was very well narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris. He spoke clearly and usually at not too rapid a speed. Keep in mind, I classify myself as a beginner; others reading this may know much more than myself. Such listeners can increase the speed! I was very hesitant to pick up this book. The reading experience turned out to be much better than I had expected, basically because it kept my interest from start to finish and I learned a lot.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Mukherjee makes science history interesting, accessible and relevant. We learn about genetics and how a steady stream of brilliant and driven scientists uncovered the code that defines us all. Recent discoveries have given us the ability to change that code. Mukherjee presents the moral conundrums implicit in our new knowledge. The moral dilemma has a history too that is as important as that of the discoveries. Mukherjee begins with Darwin and Mendel. Mendel’s 1856-63 studies of heritable traits Mukherjee makes science history interesting, accessible and relevant. We learn about genetics and how a steady stream of brilliant and driven scientists uncovered the code that defines us all. Recent discoveries have given us the ability to change that code. Mukherjee presents the moral conundrums implicit in our new knowledge. The moral dilemma has a history too that is as important as that of the discoveries. Mukherjee begins with Darwin and Mendel. Mendel’s 1856-63 studies of heritable traits in peas would go unnoticed, but Darwin’s 1859 On the Origin of Species drew immediate response. Many considered it blasphemy but in 1883, a year after Darwin’s death, his cousin Francis Galton grasped at a new idea coining the term “eugenics”. He called it “the science of improving stock to give the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing over the less suitable”. Evolutionary theory was barely out of the starting gate and its perversion was racing ahead of it. Galton died in 1911, the year the American Charles Davenport published Heredity in Relation to Eugenics which became a widely used college text and primary reference for the movement. Many states enacted laws authorizing sterilization to eliminate “defective strains.” Mukherjee dedicates his book to Carrie Buck who in 1924 in Virginia was classified as “feebleminded” by doctors and ordered by a judge to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and the Feebleminded where her mother had been sent four years earlier. Carrie had been raped and was pregnant. To protect the perpetrator she had been characterized as promiscuous. Virginia wanted to sterilize her and launched a test case that went to the US Supreme Court in 1927. Against the backdrop of widespread fear of immigrants arriving from Southern and Eastern Europe the Court ordered her sterilized. Writing for the 8-1 majority the eminent Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, ”society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind”. While America took the early lead, Germany would bring the eugenics movement to its gruesome conclusion. In 1900 Mendel’s work was rediscovered and the search for heritable traits was on. From 1905 to 1925 Thomas Morgan and his associates tracked these traits in fruit flies in their Fly Room at Columbia University. They learned much about how genes worked but still did not know what genes were. In 1928 English bacteriologist Frederick Griffith showed that genes could be passed from one bacteria strain to another. In 1944 in New York molecular biologist Oswald Avery used Frederick Griffith’s work to pinpoint DNA as the genetic material. Next came a dramatic race among scientists won by James Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. In 1953 they identified DNA’s molecular structure, the famous double-helix. In 1959 Jacques Monad, Arthur Pardee and Francois Jacob published a paper showing how DNA operated through RNA to code proteins that in turn regulated DNA allowing each cell to carry out its own function. In 1972 Paul Berg created DNA chimera combining genes from viruses and bacteria. This was not without risk. What if a new pathogen for which humans had no defense was unleashed? Soon after Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen developed the ability to transfer genes from bacteria into mammalian cells and clone them. Frederick Sanger began to sequence them. In 1976 Herb Boyer was approached by venture capitalist Robert Swanson to exploit this new technology. He suggested they call the new company HerBob, but they settled on Genentech. By 1978 Genentech was making insulin, by 1982 human growth hormone and in 1983 an important blood clotting factor that meant hemophiliacs would not have to rely on AIDS infected blood transfusions. It continues to this day to produce a steady stream of important biological therapies. In 1992 Craig Venter left NIH’s Human Genome Project to set up his own company, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), dedicated to gene sequencing. In 1995 TIGR was the first to sequence all the genes of a living species, a bacterium. In 1998 Venter left TIGR to form a new gene sequencing company, Celera, derived from the word “accelerate”. Venter intended to beat NIH to be the first to sequence the human genome. That year NIH’s Worm Genome Project completely sequenced the first multicellular animal. Not to be outdone, Celera completely sequenced the fruit fly a year later. In 2000, President Clinton, afraid of the political fallout if the expensive NIH project was beaten by a private startup, engineered a truce. In 2000 Clinton called Venter and Francis Collins who headed NIH’s Human Genome Project to the White House to announce (a little prematurely) that both groups had sequenced the human genome. Both completed their projects and published their results in February 2001. A new era in genetics was underway. Human lineage could be analyzed, ancestry determined and forensics vastly improved. Completely new avenues to diagnose disease, determine its cause and treat it were opened up. Gene therapy got off to an unfortunate start with the highly publicized death of Paul Gelsinger in 1999. But far better and more powerful techniques were coming. In 2012 Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier published their findings about CRISPER. This bacterial defense system could be used to precisely splice genes. Human embryonic stem (ES) cells and human embryos could now be readily modified. After modification pluripotent ES cells could be converted back to embryos. The opportunities and risks are mindboggling. I am struck by the timeliness of reading this in August 2017. In April the FDA approved 23andMe selling home testing for health related genes. Do you have a gene that increases your risk of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s? Now you can find out, but how will you handle the information? In June an FDA advisory committee recommended approval of a gene therapy, CAR-T, which holds much promise in the fight against cancer. If as expected the FDA approves in September, it will be the first gene therapy approved. We can expect subsequent approvals for gene tests and gene therapies to grow rapidly. In July a disease carrying gene was successfully replaced in a human embryo. Designer babies can’t be far in the future. Changes that have long been anticipated are upon us. Is our moral compass up to the responsibility science has placed upon us? Reading Mukherjee’s book one gets a sense of the furious and ever quickening pace at which genetic technology has advanced. Profound capabilities will be readily available to change what we are. Genes define our mental attributes as well as physical features. What will we make of ourselves? It’s scary when we consider how well humans have managed our world and society. This is a 500 page book and much is left out in this review, particularly about how genes work which is explained well for a general audience. But the distinguishing feature of this book is to put forward the risks and moral hazards in balance with the great opportunity and benefit genetics holds. Everyone concerned about our future should pick this one up.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    What a fantastic read! 4.5*

  19. 4 out of 5

    Udeni

    Sorry, people. I couldn't finish this book. Billed as a prequel to the brilliant Emperor of Maladies, this was just too confusing and frustrating a book for me. My major difficulty with Mukherjee's approach is that the book is a history of genetics which never properly explains what a gene is. So the reader follows the scientists down blind alleys and back out again while getting dizzy from the increasingly long list of names and biological terms. I ended up trying to sketch out a diagram of how Sorry, people. I couldn't finish this book. Billed as a prequel to the brilliant Emperor of Maladies, this was just too confusing and frustrating a book for me. My major difficulty with Mukherjee's approach is that the book is a history of genetics which never properly explains what a gene is. So the reader follows the scientists down blind alleys and back out again while getting dizzy from the increasingly long list of names and biological terms. I ended up trying to sketch out a diagram of how the gene relates to the genome and to a chromosome and to a cell. And then gave up because I was too confused. A chapter outlining the basic biology would have been helpful for non-biologists. The florid writing regularly tips over into incoherence also annoyed me. For example: "If haemoglobin's capacity to deliver oxygen to distant sites was disrupted, our bodies would be forced to be small and cold. We would wake up and find ourselves transformed into insects." No, we wouldn't wake up at all because we would be dead. And what's with the pointless reference to Kafka's "Metamorphosis"? It felt like showing off. One star for the sheer ambition of trying to write a book about the history of genetics; another star for the incredible detail in the book, and third star out of sentiment, because I loved "Emperor of Maladies" so much. Probably best enjoyed by those with a better basic grasp of genetics than me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    I loved Siddhartha Mukherjee’s previous book, The Emperor of All Maladies. Well, maybe “love” is not the correct word, since I found it profoundly unsettling and a little nervewracking (especially having a mother who died of cancer). But it was compulsively page turning and fascinating. So I was very excited to get a copy of The Gene. The Gene felt to me like a very readable textbook of genetics from the Greeks to (of course) Mendel to the present, with a look at the future. It is surprisingly int I loved Siddhartha Mukherjee’s previous book, The Emperor of All Maladies. Well, maybe “love” is not the correct word, since I found it profoundly unsettling and a little nervewracking (especially having a mother who died of cancer). But it was compulsively page turning and fascinating. So I was very excited to get a copy of The Gene. The Gene felt to me like a very readable textbook of genetics from the Greeks to (of course) Mendel to the present, with a look at the future. It is surprisingly interesting-Mukherjee writes well and I enjoyed his character sketches of the various players in this history. The science of the book is connected to Mukherjee’s personal experience of dealing with mental illness in his family. Obviously, the study of genetics is no mere pastime but a subject he has a vested interest in. Will he become ill (he had struggles as a teen)? What about his children? I found this personal investment very moving and helped keep the book from being only a textbook. It increased my emotional connection to the work. I also realized that even those of us who don’t deal with mental illness in our families often deal with other genetically connected illnesses. All of us are shaped by our genetic code and so this book is relevant to everyone. Studies indicate that both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have a genetic component. Mukherjee has reason to be scared. He concerns himself with questions such as why do some members of a family manifest a genetic illness and not others? What role does the family (or other aspects of the environment) play? Clearly, the manifestation of mental illness is caused by more than one factor. Mukherjee mulls over the genetics and their implications. What does a person do with this information? And how much information is helpful? I was a little overwhelmed by the science of the book. There’s a lot of information to take in and try to synthesize. Mukherjee starts with the Greeks and keeps going. Of course, Mendel plays a key role but I was surprised at the extent to which Darwin was involved. Of course, this is a sign of how ignorant I was. I’m not sure how much of the science I will retain-I would probably have to study the book rather than simply read it and read related material as well to truly grasp all the material in this book. Of particular interest to me was the issue of eugenics. I have become aware of how active eugenicists were in the United States and some of the horror they inflicted (forced sterilization, primarily of black and poor people, as well as the cognitively limited and mentally ill). Hitler’s Germany took to an extreme something practiced here as well. The nightmare of Nazi Germany resulted in the disappearance of eugenics in the U.S. but it’s important to know how active we were in this frightening field. The promise of human perfection is always something to beware of. With all the advances in the field and possibilities for doing good-as well as doing harm-Mukherjee’s book feels like a “must read,” especially for people like myself with very little knowledge (other than Mendel, the controversy around stem cell research, and eugenics). But there is much, much more going on. In order to begin to understand the present (let alone the future), it is important to understand the past. Mukherjee offers a comprehensive coverage of the development of gene theory and its implications for our future. I especially enjoyed all the character sketches of the many scientists involved in the study of genetics. They leavened the book and added a personal touch. Thank you Scribner Publishing, Netgalley, and Siddhartha Mukherjee for providing me with this fascinating work in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Liza Fireman

    This book is a combination of science, history, and stories. It is so well written and very engaging, but it does includes many details (and reads like a textbook for some of the time). I am not writing this to discourage anyone from reading this, just to set the expectations if you decide to approach this book. Since I studied some extended biology in the past it was easy for me to dive into the RNA and the amino acid described at length, so just FYI. The author did an amazing job spicing up th This book is a combination of science, history, and stories. It is so well written and very engaging, but it does includes many details (and reads like a textbook for some of the time). I am not writing this to discourage anyone from reading this, just to set the expectations if you decide to approach this book. Since I studied some extended biology in the past it was easy for me to dive into the RNA and the amino acid described at length, so just FYI. The author did an amazing job spicing up the book with stories and interesting topics (intelligence, mental health and much more). He is discussing at length our ability to know what is in our genes, and to decide what will be in them more and more. It is a world inhabited by “previvors” and “post-humans”: men and women who have been screened for genetic vulnerabilities or created with altered genetic propensities. The consequences are not only scientific, but also emotionally the world is going to change. Would you decide to have no people with mental illness in the world? No crippled people? No people with terrible diseases? As Edvard Munch put it, “[My troubles] are part of me and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and [treatment] would destroy my art. I want to keep those sufferings.” The author takes us to a journey from Charles Darwin, to Mendel and later to IVF. The mysterious gene unravelling, the strength in the system that we live through holds and creates everything. In every cell in your body, you have two meters of the stuff; if we were to draw a scaled-up picture of it with the DNA as thick as sewing thread, that cell’s worth would be about 200 kilometers long There is a lot still unknown, and there are moral implications that are yet to be explored. But we do have the technical ability to do many things in a tube today, that would be a far fetched dream not long ago. We do not know where genes come from, or how they arose. Nor can we know why this method of information transfer and data storage was chosen over all other possible methods in biology. But we can try to reconstruct the primordial origin of genes in a test tube. To read a very engaging book about project Eugenics, I can highly recommend reading Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain (it has some faults, but overall a really good book). I learned a few thing about the sterilization that was done not too long ago, not presented as an option (or even really presented at all) to the feeble minded (or just poor uneducated people). Taking from people their basics rights without even the slightest remorse. I am planning on reading his Pulitzer Award winner sometime soon. Almost 4.5 stars, and my favorite of the genre for this year.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrej Karpathy

    This book offers a comprehensive and engaging overview of genetics. It includes the history of the field, anecdotes of its development, a well-paced technical explanation of the high level aspects, and quite a lot of discussion on the associated moral dilemmas that we are faced with as we understand how we can use this technology to change our own species. Unfortunately, the book does not delve into some of the aspects of modern genetics that I find most interesting, such as gene drive. These are This book offers a comprehensive and engaging overview of genetics. It includes the history of the field, anecdotes of its development, a well-paced technical explanation of the high level aspects, and quite a lot of discussion on the associated moral dilemmas that we are faced with as we understand how we can use this technology to change our own species. Unfortunately, the book does not delve into some of the aspects of modern genetics that I find most interesting, such as gene drive. These are discussed near the very end almost as an afterthought, and are hardly given enough focus. Similarly, epigenetics is only briefly touched on. Lastly, the book is very human-centric and does not discover genetics in a broader context of evolution in animals (e.g. selfish genes), which I find fascinating. Overall, this will likely become my default recommendation for the reference Genetics book for a general interested reader who is mostly interested in the history of genetics, who enjoys thinking about the ethics of genetics in humans, and who wants to get a good high-level overview of the technical aspects. 4/5

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bettie☯

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07hxmmn Description: In 1859 Darwin published his famous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. During the years before and after its publication, Gregor Mendel, a young Silesian monk, had been busy breeding peas and carefully logging his results. He was on the way towards a theory of heredity - to identifying the existence of genes. Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher, a stem cell biologist and cancer geneticist. He BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07hxmmn Description: In 1859 Darwin published his famous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. During the years before and after its publication, Gregor Mendel, a young Silesian monk, had been busy breeding peas and carefully logging his results. He was on the way towards a theory of heredity - to identifying the existence of genes. Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher, a stem cell biologist and cancer geneticist. He is also author of The Emperor of All Maladies, a biography of cancer which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, and the Guardian first book award.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pequete

    Ainda estou em estado de graça, e incapaz de escrever uma "review" como deve ser, mas vou tentar. Este livro é fantástico. Recomendo-o a toda a gente, mesmo aqueles que não se interessam particularmente por temas científicos. É que, aquilo que o livro descreve diz respeito a todos nós. O livro trata um tema científico, mas também filosofia, ética - foi um livro que li com o mesmo interesse com que leio alguns livros de ficção, aqueles que são complexos sem serem complicados, que exigem alguma con Ainda estou em estado de graça, e incapaz de escrever uma "review" como deve ser, mas vou tentar. Este livro é fantástico. Recomendo-o a toda a gente, mesmo aqueles que não se interessam particularmente por temas científicos. É que, aquilo que o livro descreve diz respeito a todos nós. O livro trata um tema científico, mas também filosofia, ética - foi um livro que li com o mesmo interesse com que leio alguns livros de ficção, aqueles que são complexos sem serem complicados, que exigem alguma concentração, sem serem cansativos, e que me chamavam para ler "só mais umas páginas", sempre que podia (e às vezes quando não podia/devia). De uma forma magistral, Siddhartha Mukherjee conta-nos a história da descoberta do gene, desde as experiências iniciais com cruzamentos de ervilhas na horta de um recôndito mosteiro, no século XIX, até aos mais recentes ensaios de manipulação genética com embriões humanos... Apesar de este tema não me ser totalmente familiar, vou acompanhando com interesse as notícias que vão sendo divulgadas, mas a verdade é que este livro (publicado o ano passado) me fez constatar que a evolução tecnológica nesta área se desenrola a uma velocidade bem maior do que eu tinha noção... Podia citar aqui metade do livro, mas claro que não o vou fazer. Fica só um cheirinho: "Every generation of humans will produce variants and mutants; it is an inextricable part of our biology. A mutation is only "abnormal" in a statistical sense: it is the less common variant. The desire to homogenize and "normalize" humans must be counterbalanced against biological imperatives to maintain diversity and abnormalcy. Normalcy is the antithesis of evolution." "Every genetic "illness" is a mismatch between an organism's genome and its environment. In some cases, the appropriate medical intervention to mitigate a disease might be to alter the environment to make it "fit" an organismal form (building alernative architectural realms for those with dwarphism; imagining alternative educational landscapes for children with autism). In other cases, conversely, it might mean changing genes to fit environments. In yet other cases, the match may be impossible to achieve: the severest forms of genetic illnesses, such as those caused by nonfunction of essential genes, are incompatible with all environments. It is a peculiar modern fallacy to imagine that the definitive solution to illness is to change nature - i.e., genes - when the environment is often more malleable."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    Siddhartha Mukherjee dove deep into the history of the gene and provided and extremely thorough account of the various associated discovery that have occurred since Darwin's day. This book is heavy on the history, and semi light on the science. Each discovery is detailed, but the science involved is related in a manner that is accessible to the nonscientists. One thing I found curious was his discussion of Lamarck. Recently I finished reading Survival of the Sickest, but Sharon Moalem, in which Siddhartha Mukherjee dove deep into the history of the gene and provided and extremely thorough account of the various associated discovery that have occurred since Darwin's day. This book is heavy on the history, and semi light on the science. Each discovery is detailed, but the science involved is related in a manner that is accessible to the nonscientists. One thing I found curious was his discussion of Lamarck. Recently I finished reading Survival of the Sickest, but Sharon Moalem, in which it was suggested that Lamarck was more of a science writer than a theorist. Moalem posited that it was not Lamarck who came up with the idea that traits acquired during the lifetime were passed down. Rather, Lamarck simply championed that idea, which was the dominant paradigm of the time, in his writing. Mukherjee, like every author I have read except Moalem, took it as a given that Lamarck was the originator of such thought. I now feel compelled to research this and find out who is correct. In this rich history, Mukherjee shared many interesting tidbits that I hadn't heard or had forgotten about. His choice of facts, both of a personal and scientific nature, kept the book humming along. Despite being a longer than usual science book, it felt as if moved fairly fast. Some of, what I thought, the more interesting parts of the books were as follows: The best biography of a scientists involved Hermann Muller. When Muller first began his career, he was extremely enamored with eugenics. John Morgan was a prominent expert in eugenics and Muller sought him out to work in his lab. Muller worked on many aspects of genetics and, as a result of his significant contributions , became a Nobel laureate. As he continued his work, Muller realized that instead of eugenics serving to level the playing field, it was a tool of oppression, mainly aimed at minorities and the poor. Not wanting to be on the wrong side of history, Muller became very politically active. As editor of a progressive leftist journal called The Spark, he helped champion ideas that promoted equality for women, minorities, and the poor. Instead of being thanked for his efforts, Muller's outspoken views on equality made him a target of the FBI. He underwent a character assassination that attacked him socially, professionally, and politically. Not being able to endure it any longer, he walked out into the woods, took a bottle of pills and fell asleep under a tree. Turned out the pills were not enough to kill him. Grad students found him walking around in a daze. His best analogy of genes involved a rare syndrome. According to Mukherjee, having a disorder that enables your brain to remember every single thing you have ever experienced might seem like a superpower, but it's more like a crippling disease. He likens it to being in a loud crowd, every moment of your life, and never being able to turn the sound down low enough so you can hear the people you love and want to talk to. It's just noise all the time. He suggested that genes act like memory. If epigenetic modification does not silence some genes and express others, the end product could never be a fully functioning organism. We are all born with many genes. But if we expressed them all, all of the time, we would not be human. We would not be anything we recognize. Epigenetic modification is happening all of the time and cannot be separated from gene expression. Sometimes epigenetic modification can turn off and on genes many times in a second. Sometimes it can silence a gene for an entire lifetime, making it as if the gene never existed at all. There was a wonderful discussion on genes, sex, and gender identity that was top notch. Mukherjee related how sex is determined by the X or Y chromosome *AND* the SRY gene. Not only do the SRY gene and the Y chromosome need to interact, but the SRY gene itself (which in turn regulated the Y chromosome) is itself regulated other genes. This creates a very complex model of gene expression. It's not simple. We cannot just say, "This person is male," or "That person is female." There is more to it. Genetically, A person can be genetically male, possessing a Y chromosome, but the Y chromosome is not regulated and the person never becomes what we would recognize as male. Thus, a person with a Y chromosome might feel, act, and look like a female. A person might look like a male but their brain, lacking SRY gene regulation of the Y chromosome, might in a real biological sense identify as female. I would like to have seen a discussion of how gender roles have affected gender identity. That cannot really be found in this book, which was disappointing. However, that was the only exception to a truly fantastic discussion of gender identity. Mukherjee provided an equally wonderful discussion about race, IQ, and genes. It was balanced, well researched, and well presented. I would have liked more examples of epigenetic modification. There probably wasn't time, considering how long the book was, but there are so many wonderful studies and I never get tired of reading about them. He included the usual suspects and that got the point across to the reader in an effective manner. I would say the overall tone of this book was fairly conservative -- paying homage to Dawkins, paying head to concerns about playing God, expressing concern for those who use evidence from epigenetics to shift paradigms too wildly, etc. Even with that, it was a solid piece of work.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    The Emperor of All Maladies, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011, is among my most memorable reads of the past decade. So it was a disappointment to find that I could never really engage with Mukherjee’s second full-length work. There’s no denying this book’s impressive scope: it’s a comprehensive survey of the past 150 years of genetics research, but it also stretches back to antiquity to see the different ways people have imagined that heredity works. It’s a no-holds-barred science and social h The Emperor of All Maladies, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011, is among my most memorable reads of the past decade. So it was a disappointment to find that I could never really engage with Mukherjee’s second full-length work. There’s no denying this book’s impressive scope: it’s a comprehensive survey of the past 150 years of genetics research, but it also stretches back to antiquity to see the different ways people have imagined that heredity works. It’s a no-holds-barred science and social history text, both chronological and thematic in approach, and it also surprises with its breadth of literary reference (as in the epigraphs from 1Q84 and The Importance of Being Earnest). However, my favorite snippets were those that constitute a mini family memoir of the schizophrenia that runs through the author’s India-based family. Part of the problem was that a lot of the early material concerning Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin is very familiar to me. High school genetics material has stayed fresh in my mind even though so many other subjects have faded, and I’ve done a lot of reading on Darwin for my Victorian Literature MA and on my own time. Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, then provides a segue into the dark side of genetics: eugenics. A lot of space is given to Nazism, but Mukherjee also hits closer to home with the case of Carrie Buck, a “feeble-minded” woman whose enforced sterilization the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in 1927. Other important figures in the history of genetics include Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries, Hermann Muller, Oswald Avery, Linus Pauling, and the famous English team that discovered the structure of DNA, Watson, Crick & Franklin. Parts Three and Four, which chronicle the advances in genetics that fell between the 1970s and early 2000s, struck me as particularly dull, whereas Part Five held my interest much more strongly in that it brings things up to date with the developments of the last 15 years, including epigenetics, genetic testing for breast cancer and schizophrenia, stem cell therapy and the search for a “gay gene.” The book did leave me with a strong sense that our knowledge of genes – the least divisible unit of information about life – affects our understanding of the human identity and future: In the early decades of the twenty-first century, we are learning to speak yet another language of cause and effect, and constructing a new epidemiology of self: we are beginning to describe illness, identity, affinity, temperament, preferences—and, ultimately, fate and choice—in terms of genes and genomes. This is not to make the absurd claim that genes are the only lenses through which fundamental aspects of our nature and destiny can be viewed. But it is to propose and to give serious consideration to one of the most provocative ideas about our history and future: that the influence of genes on our lives and beings is richer, deeper, and more unnerving than we had imagined. This idea becomes even more provocative and destabilizing as we learn to interpret, alter, and manipulate the genome intentionally, thereby acquiring the ability to alter future fates and choices. However, at nearly 500 very dense, small-print pages, this book will, I fear, struggle to find a broad readership. Is it for science majors and graduate students? They’re likely to have their own university-approved textbooks. Is it an introduction for the general layman? Without a keen interest in science and a determination to learn the last word about genetics, readers are unlikely to persist with such a tome. I have a greater than average interest in genetic diseases, yet couldn’t manage more than a desultory skim. Unlike The Emperor of All Maladies, I can’t see this becoming a modern classic of popular science writing. For me it’s this year’s Citizen Kane: an achievement I can objectively admire but not personally warm to. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aya

    I received a copy of The Gene from NetGalley for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, and Siddhartha Mukherjee for the opportunity. This book was published in June 2016. I loved this book, which contains of small chapters that takes you through the history of gene, starting with the author’s family history of schizophrenia. The six main chapters are written in periods of time and explained in an informatively way that doesnt bore you and not without humor I received a copy of The Gene from NetGalley for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, and Siddhartha Mukherjee for the opportunity. This book was published in June 2016. I loved this book, which contains of small chapters that takes you through the history of gene, starting with the author’s family history of schizophrenia. The six main chapters are written in periods of time and explained in an informatively way that doesn´t bore you and not without humor too. Part One (1865-1935) takes us through times, as we know it, from the great thinkers of evolution Pythagoras, Aristoteles, Charles Darwin and an important Augustine monk called Gregor Johann Mendel, whom I have never heard of before – but apparently an important piece of our knowledge today. We are also introduced to the mental colony in Virginia, USA, and the unfortunate Buck family – what a horror story about neutralizing women who are “being difficult” and called retarded. The book takes us through six parts in all, Part Two – (1930-1970) The horrible eugeni…of the Nazi´s and the Sovjet – and all those who let It happened,The discovery of the double-helix model of DNA and the questions e.g. How do gene know how to become a leg and sit in its right place… Part Three – (1970-2001) is about the work on genetic hybrids and bacterial cells, gene cloning and the questions there followed about ethics, safety and the growing concerns about gene-manipulations. Part Four – (1970-2005) starting with more of the family history, about his father falling ill and making the book personal and near to the reader, the title of the book is called “An Intimate History”, and that is a big part of my curiosity and reason for keeping reading. Part Five and Six (2001-2015) Now things are beginning (to me) to become a bit complicated to understand (I am not a scientist), but I still get the wiser, e.g. I know now that Neanderthal is a valley in Germany! I love this kind of info, explained in a human manor for normal people with lots of notes. The author does such a good job, even though he is a scientist! I was never ever bored and was able to read in English without problems (I am Danish). I also love that every little chapter starts with a famous quote. Now rest the question: Will this man go crazy too like some members of his family? Gee.. I hope not, for the sake of all non-fiction book lovers – why was this informative man not my science teacher? This e-book and encyclopedia for gene-dummies is now mine forever to read and study.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    At the same time I reached the midway point of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History, the satellite Juno entered the atmosphere of Jupiter. But that feat pales, in my view, to the story about genetic journeys that are taking place within our individual, biological selves, especially since “genes provide the context to understand development and fate” of every human life. As I finished the book today, the New York Times reported that a clinical trial using a promising type of genet At the same time I reached the midway point of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History, the satellite Juno entered the atmosphere of Jupiter. But that feat pales, in my view, to the story about genetic journeys that are taking place within our individual, biological selves, especially since “genes provide the context to understand development and fate” of every human life. As I finished the book today, the New York Times reported that a clinical trial using a promising type of genetically engineered cells—made, coincidentally, by a company called Juno—had to be halted after three patients died because of swelling in the brain. It is a sobering reminder of, despite its promise, how far we still have to go to understand and harness the promise of genes to lessen the burdens of disability and disease. It’s hard not be overly enthusiastic about how the manipulation of genetics might make things like birth defects, cognitive issues, mental illness, and diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and hemophilia things of the past, especially considering Mukherjee’s masterful, precise overview of the history of scientific progress to understand how the gene works. Yet his combined gifts of scientific expertise and literary brilliance—which he also demonstrated vividly in The Emperor of All Maladies —provide a dose of reality of how difficult the steps from theory to practice will be. There is an overriding sense, however—like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of the Promised Land—that we just might get there if we keep trying. In writing about the evolving history of the gene from Pythagoras to Darwin to Mendel and their intellectual progeny through today, Mukherjee has taken what is usually a dry subject with the prose of a gifted novelist. He interweaves the story of the gene with his own family’s history of mental illness, leaving unsaid his fears of genetic predisposition that might one day affect him, his children or other loved ones. From a lay perspective, it is most interesting that the basic knowledge of the gene is built on studies of things like fruit flies, worms and yeast. (Keep that in mind the next time you hear a member of Congress complaining about “wasteful” spending on research he or she cannot comprehend.) By understanding the basic mechanisms of genes, which are within chromosomes and synthesize DNA to RNA to proteins in these smaller, “simpler” organisms, researchers could better understand how these processes work in humans. Two fly geneticists, for example, “understood that mutations [in genes] are just variations...that convey…essential and profound truth[s]. A mutation…is a statistical entity, not a pathological or moral one.” In other words, when we impose our personal, social, or political views on things like race, a person’s disability or disease, or anything caused by genetic variation, for that matter, it tells us more about our subjective humanity than it does about objective reality. This explains why he doesn’t shy away from the history of the misuse and deliberate misinterpretation of genetics for purposes of political ideology or social engineering. In taking on subjects like eugenics, the monstrous “racial” policies of Nazi Germany, Murray and Herrnstein’s book The Bell Curve, and then brings them together through the telling of the story of Carrie (to whom this book is dedicated) and Emma Buck, a daughter and mother who were forced to undergo state-sanctioned sterilization in the name of an evil policy built on a combination of junk science and misguided notions of morality. In telling this story, Mukherjee intertwines contextual definitions with simple rhetoric. Genes are much more complex than carriers and purveyors of heredity; to evolve, genes express things like variation, adaptation and mutation, the latter which he sums up as, “A chicken…was merely an egg’s way of making a better egg.” An essential concept is the genome, i.e., “all genetic information within an organism.” The interplay between genes within any organism’s genome is what makes up the stuff of life. It is an uneven, pragmatic process, or has Mukherjee explains more clearly, “Beautiful laws were often killed by ugly facts.” The ugliest of facts is: even when genes and genomes are distilled to their most simple elements, answers on how to manipulate them for good is elusive. Scientists must understand the interplay of a variety of factors. “A genotype is an organism’s genetic composition. It can refer to one gene, a configuration of a gene, or even an entire genome. A phenotype, in contrast, refers to an organism’s physical or biological attributes and characteristics—the color of any eye, the shape of a wing, or resistance to hot or cold temperatures.” Or as he puts it more simply: “genotype + environment + triggers + chance = phenotype.” Some genetic information about disease can be distilled down to one gene defect as in diseases like chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), hemophilia or Huntington’s disease. “But most common human diseases do not arise from single-gene mutations. These are not genetic illnesses as much as genomic illnesses: multiple genes spread differently throughout the human genome, determine the risk for the illness.” The next most important steps to address these issues will be to sequence genomes; to figure out what genetic information is transmitted in particular places at particular times. “Cancer,” for example, is “a genome that becomes pathologically obsessed with replicating itself” and, depending on the type, it can require multiple—perhaps tens or hundreds of distinct operations at the genetic level—approaches to alter blood cells have them match up with the disease causing mutations within each individual’s body, something that Juno’s clinical trial tried unsuccessfully to do. Yet, Mukherjee’s opus leads me to believe that when we understand why these trials have failed, the news will be much bigger than interplanetary exploration and much, much more significant to our lives. Mukherjee is a trained oncologist. These folks are usually very dry and hyper-focused; they aren’t well-read outside of their fields nor do they know much about art, poetry or history. But Mukherjee is different. He can write with an eloquent simplicity that makes complex issues completely clear to someone like me who was never crazy about science. First he writes what is arguably one the best nonfiction books ever written, The Emperor of All Maladies , and then he follows it up with an eloquent masterpiece on a subject that is much more complex to explain. He is incredibly gifted. Much like Carl Sagan, he should be considered one of the great medical minds of our or any generation if only because of his gift of being able to convey such complex, relevant ideas to lay persons everywhere.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marian

    Unfortunately, this book is for much of its length more or less a textbook on the history of genetics. A nicely written one, with "characters" (e.g., Mendel, Darwin, less-well known names) and their stories woven in--though personally I didn't care about details like the grub at the restaurant in Hawaii where several researchers dined while birthing a breakthrough, or the neon signs along the strip; maybe Mukherjee should dip his oar into fiction or creative nonfiction. The development of his pe Unfortunately, this book is for much of its length more or less a textbook on the history of genetics. A nicely written one, with "characters" (e.g., Mendel, Darwin, less-well known names) and their stories woven in--though personally I didn't care about details like the grub at the restaurant in Hawaii where several researchers dined while birthing a breakthrough, or the neon signs along the strip; maybe Mukherjee should dip his oar into fiction or creative nonfiction. The development of his personal family story (bipolar disorder and schizophrenia affect many on his father's side) is less than satisfying, and does not have quite the impact he wishes it to. Discussion of the latest technologies and their ethical hazards is likewise a bit workmanlike, and since this tech is constantly evolving and will soon be yesterday's news (if it's not already), voice and insight are everything.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    4 Stars - Fantastic book This book is fully deserving of the 4 star rating. The author took what is a complicated topic, the history of genes, and created an engaging and fascinating read. The title does a great job at telling you what the book's about. Mukherjee gives us a in-depth look at how modern science's study of the gene came to be. He interweaves science with history and his personal story - the story of his family. I appreciate when people share their personal history with a wider audien 4 Stars - Fantastic book This book is fully deserving of the 4 star rating. The author took what is a complicated topic, the history of genes, and created an engaging and fascinating read. The title does a great job at telling you what the book's about. Mukherjee gives us a in-depth look at how modern science's study of the gene came to be. He interweaves science with history and his personal story - the story of his family. I appreciate when people share their personal history with a wider audience. He didn't have to by any means, even though it did affect him deeply. Not surprisingly, this aspect made the book more personal. Mukherjee's basic thesis, and I'm watering this down significantly, is that it's impossible to understand anything without understanding the gene. And the way Mukherjee lays out the book this makes sense. I'll admit that some of the science went over my head just a bit, but I honestly know that I know more now than I did before, which is always a good thing when reading non-fiction. The writing is professional and well-done but not overly academic or dry. My expertise is not in the sciences and not once did I feel like the writing held me back from learning. I can honestly say you can read this with no background and not have a problem - at least in terms of the writing. Some of the more noteworthy aspects, or parts that stood out to me, dealt with eugenics. Let me just say that eugenics has always and will always make me feel nauseous. I think a lot of people associate eugenics with Nazi Germany and rightfully so. However, I think more people need to know more about eugenics and America because it was a large part of our (American here) history. I'm glad I had teachers throughout my academic life who tackled this subject head on. It's important to know about because the Nazis weren't the only ones who championed eugenics. Quickly, going back to the Nazis one thing I was not aware of before reading this book was the pre-Holocaust killings that started in 1935. They started with children, adolescents, and juvenile delinquents. Systematic extermination started long before what we know as the Holocaust and death camps existed. Do I recommend this one? Absolutely!

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