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The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha…
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The Gene: An Intimate History (2016)

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (the author of The Emperor of All Maladies) is well-written and very informative - apparently it is also used in some schools as a textbook. I can see why. He wraps his personal story (schizophrenia among his family members) around a tour de force history of our understanding of genetics. He goes from the ancient Greeks through Mendel and Darwin and the scary eugenics period in this country and Hitler's Germany, to the present day and what may lie ahead. I loved his description of the work of Crick and Watson and others to discover the elegant double helix of DNA, with Crick and Watson's first metal sculpture of it still available to be seen in London.

There are some sections where he gives more than this reader needed - particularly in the latter part of the book where he explains missteps in detail before success is obtained. No doubt those sections would be of particular interest to a student, but briefer would've been fine with me.

Mukherjee is thoughtful about bigger issues, as well as being a skilled author. Here's a couple of quotes that stood out for me. The first quote is from artist Edward Munch, and comes in the author's discussion of how schizophrenia and other mental diseases sometimes are linked to exceptional creativity:

{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.

In a eugenics discussion, Mukherjee points out this sorry story:

"Readers from India and China might note, with some shame and sobriety, that the largest 'negative eugenics' program in human history was not the systematic extermination of the Jews in Nazi Germany or Austria in the 1930s. That ghastly distinction falls on India and China, where more than 10 million female children are missing from adulthood because of infanticide, abortion and neglect."

It's not a book like I Contain Multitudes, which is so attractively written that I'm sure it's read by many with only a marginal interest in microbes. My guess is that mainly fans of the subject matter or the author, or both, will read this one. They'll get plenty to enjoy and think about, including the ethical issues raised by our increasing ability to modify genes and potentially select for desirable traits. ( )
3 vote jnwelch | Aug 12, 2017 |
Everything you could possibly want in a nonfiction book.

The topic is timely. Human beings are pushing the envelope of gene manipulation, and breakthroughs are happening regularly.

The topic is important. This is more than just a history of the gene -- it tackles some of the major philosophical, theological, even ontological questions, but always grounded in the practicality of science. Once it's become clear that we *can* do something, how do we decide whether we *should*?

The author is authoritative. Even if he hadn't already written a book on cancer ([b:The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer|7170627|The Emperor of All Maladies A Biography of Cancer|Siddhartha Mukherjee|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1280771091s/7170627.jpg|7580942]), his deep understanding of the medical field generally and of genetic research in particular shines through. The footnotes give helpful additional information but don't intrude on the text. I feel like I learned a LOT I didn't know before, even after a fantastic high school genetics class where the teacher was extremely enthusiastic about the Human Genome Project.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the non-medical professional: it's enjoyable to read. It's long and dense, but Mukherjee is fundamentally a great story-teller, and in some ways the story of humans discovering what makes them human -- and exploring the possibility of manipulating their humanity -- is the biggest story ever.

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Thanks!
( )
  BraveNewBks | Aug 8, 2017 |
A heavy read. Pushed my limits. But well worth the read. Loved the history of gene discoveries as well as the ethical discussions surrounding. Especially pertinent since news is coming out about changing the germ line for the first time and the implications it has. Amazing how talented the author is. ( )
  bermandog | Aug 8, 2017 |
I loved Emperor of All Maladies, and Mukherjee's new book is as well-written and fascinating. He makes the science understandable to this non-scientist, although I did find The Gene to be denser and more requiring of close reading and concentration than The Emperor of All Maladies. I sometimes found I had to reread certain passages to clarify questions in my mind, and also found that I could not read more than a chapter or so a day (my brain got too full), so it took me almost a month to read this book.

Mukherjee organizes the book primarily chronologically, and describes centuries of history and research to identify and analyze the basic building blocks of life, from the ancient Greeks, through Mendel's pea experiments, to the mapping of the human genome and beyond. As our knowledge of the role of genes, and the possibilities of genetic modification grow, the science, and the ethical and philosophical issues raised become more complicated and difficult.

I have to say that before reading this book I was completely illiterate about microbiology, biochemistry and genetics. I didn't know the difference between DNA and RNA, between a gene and a chromosome. Now I can hold a basic conversation on some of these scientific issues with my daughter who will be receiving her Ph.D. in genetics this fall. She was very impressed that I knew what "epigenetics" was, and that I had heard of CRISPR, a technology she uses in her research.

Highly Recommended.

4 1/2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Jul 14, 2017 |
This is an excellent book covering the history of genes as a scientific concept and which goes up to the present day to hint at what the future may hold for genetic research and possibilities. I appreciated how accessible this book was for someone of a nonscientific background and the author does a good job of connecting abstract scientific research to human consequences. I'd highly recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding more about genes. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jun 28, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
The story of this invention and this discovery has been told, piecemeal, in different ways, but never before with the scope and grandeur that Siddhartha Mukherjee brings to his new history, “The Gene.” ... As he did in his Pulitzer ­Prize-winning history of cancer, “The Emperor of All Maladies” (2010), Mukherjee views his subject panoptically, from a great and clarifying height, yet also intimately.
 
... By the time “The Gene” is over, Dr. Mukherjee has covered Mendel and his peas, Darwin and his finches. He’s taken us on the quest of Watson, Crick and their many unsung compatriots to determine the stuff and structure of DNA. We learn about how genes were sequenced, cloned and variously altered, and about the race to map our complete set of DNA, or genome, which turns out to contain a stunning amount of filler material with no determined function.

...Many of the same qualities that made “The Emperor of All Maladies” so pleasurable are in full bloom in “The Gene.” The book is compassionate, tautly synthesized, packed with unfamiliar details about familiar people....

... “The Gene” is more pedagogical than dramatic; as often as not, the stars of this story are molecules, not humans. Dr. Mukherjee still has a poignant personal connection to the material — mental illness has wrapped itself around his family tree like a stubborn vine, claiming two uncles and a cousin on his father’s side — but this book does not aim for the gut. It aims for the mind...
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Siddhartha Mukherjeeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boutsikaris, DennisNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drost-Plegt, TraceyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Veen, René vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
An exact determination of the laws of heredity will probably work more change in man's outlook on the world, and in his power over nature, than any other advance in natural knowledge that can be foreseen.
—William Bateson
Human beings are ultimately nothing but carriers—passageways—for genes.  They ride us into the ground like racehorses from generation to generation.  Genes don't think about what constitutes good or evil.  They don't care whether we are happy or unhappy.  We're just means to an end for them.  The only thing they think about is what is most efficient for them.
—Haruki Murakami, IQ84
Dedication
To Priyabala Mukherjee (1906-1985), who knew the perils;
to Carrie Buck (1906-1983), who experienced them.
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In the winter of 2012, I traveled from Delhi to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni.
The monastery was originally a nunnery.
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