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The Gene: An Intimate History (2016)

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,446715,896 (4.21)123
History. Medical. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML:2017 Audie Award Finalist for Non-Fiction
The #1 NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
The basis for the PBS Ken Burns Documentary The Gene: An Intimate History

From the Pulitzer Prize‚??winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies‚??a fascinating history of the gene and "a magisterial account of how human minds have laboriously, ingeniously picked apart what makes us tick" (Elle).

"Sid Mukherjee has the uncanny ability to bring together science, history, and the future in a way that is understandable and riveting, guiding us through both time and the mystery of life itself." ‚??Ken Burns
"Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee dazzled readers with his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies in 2010. That achievement was evidently just a warm-up for his virtuoso performance in The Gene: An Intimate History, in which he braids science, history, and memoir into an epic with all the range and biblical thunder of Paradise Lost" (The New York Times). In this biography Mukherjee brings to life the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.

"Mukherjee expresses abstract intellectual ideas through emotional stories...[and] swaddles his medical rigor with rhapsodic tenderness, surprising vulnerability, and occasional flashes of pure poetry" (The Washington Post). Throughout, the story of Mukherjee's own family‚??with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness‚??reminds us of the questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In riveting and dramatic prose, 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.

"A fascinating and often sobering history of how humans came to understand the roles of genes in making us who we are‚??and what our manipulation of those genes might mean for our future" (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel), The Gene is the revelatory and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master. "The Gene is a book we all should read
… (more)
  1. 10
    p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code by Sue Armstrong (rodneyvc)
  2. 00
    A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford (jigarpatel)
    jigarpatel: Summary of how humans have evolved with evidence found in genetics; interesting follow-up to Gene: An Intimate History.
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» See also 123 mentions

English (69)  French (2)  All languages (71)
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Siddhartha Mukherjee has that rare quality of making it sound like he‚Äôs cramming a bucketload of information in his words, all the while not losing brevity. In The Emperor of All Maladies, this quality was suppressed ‚Äď the topic of cancer is weighty, and thus brevity was preserved over information density. This quality is out in full force in Gene, so you must take a breather every fifty or sixty pages.
Genecovers so much information about genetics that after finishing it, you will feel that you have absorbed those information pellets sometimes found in science fiction. It follows a similar pathway to The Emperor, with Mukherjee tracking the story of genetics from its ancestors (including debunked theories such as the sperm-containing mini-children) to the present, where we’re making quantum leaps in the field every few years.
Aside from its remarkable history, the novel delves into the gene and what makes it tick. For example - how mutations mess with (or improve) a genome, how DNA can be combined to form recombinant DNA not generally found on a genome, how gene editing works, and how our genome can have a genetic ‚Äėmemory‚Äô of sorts.
More soberly, however, Mukherjee illuminates the reader with digressions centred on his family ‚Äď and how mental illness was so pervasive in his family. It lends the entire novel a human touch that you cannot help but reflect on. Saying that the gene has been at the forefront of modern is something else, but saying that it has impacted the author‚Äôs life brings it into some perspective ‚Äď not missing the trees for the forest, if you will.
Gene is a rich and illuminating history of genetics and digressions into its probable future. I am not sure where genetics will land in even twenty years ‚Äď but I now know watching the field progress will be breathtaking. ( )
  SidKhanooja | Sep 1, 2023 |
Engaging and readable, neither dumbed-down nor densely academic. Very interesting to get an overview of developments since I left uni (and of everything I didn't learn there as well). ( )
1 vote Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
Science writing for the general reader done as it should be done - detailed, accurate, and engaging. It's a big book, and the reading is necessarily slow, but worth the effort. ( )
  mbmackay | Jan 25, 2023 |
Beautifully written. Great coverage of both the history of genetics and also the how-it-works part, combined with interesting stories about his own family and thoughtful discussions about the moral issues involved. ( )
1 vote steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
This book is for those interested in the science and history of genetics. The history portions are rather broad brush, but cover the appropriate basics, going back to Mendel and Darwin, and coming forward to the mapping of the human genome. The science portions form the core of the book. The science is rigorous and detailed. Mukherjee explores the rapid expansion in knowledge of genetic science, ethical implications, some of the ways these discoveries have been misused, and his personal family history of mental illness.

This book is timely. The techniques described in this book are being used to create COVID-19 vaccines (though the book itself pre-dates the current pandemic), including messenger RNA. I wanted to read it to understand further the science behind these genetic advances.

Mukherjee provides examples of where genetic science has gone awry in the past, such as in the misguided eugenics movement. The author also highlights success stories, and the encouraging results from trials in the use of gene therapy to assist those suffering from specific medical conditions.

It is a good discussion starter. It provides much food for thought. Since biotechnology has become part of the medical landscape, I think it is a good idea to be informed.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 69 (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, ‚ÄúThe Gene.‚ÄĚ ... As he did in his Pulitzer ¬≠Prize-winning history of cancer, ‚ÄúThe Emperor of All Maladies‚ÄĚ (2010), Mukherjee views his subject panoptically, from a great and clarifying height, yet also intimately.
 
... By the time ‚ÄúThe Gene‚ÄĚ is over, Dr. Mukherjee has covered Mendel and his peas, Darwin and his finches. He‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúThe Emperor of All Maladies‚ÄĚ so pleasurable are in full bloom in ‚ÄúThe Gene.‚ÄĚ The book is compassionate, tautly synthesized, packed with unfamiliar details about familiar people....

... ‚ÄúThe Gene‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄĒ mental illness has wrapped itself around his family tree like a stubborn vine, claiming two uncles and a cousin on his father‚Äôs side ‚ÄĒ 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.
‚ÄĒWilliam Bateson
Human beings are ultimately nothing but carriers‚ÄĒpassageways‚ÄĒfor 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.
‚ÄĒHaruki Murakami, IQ84
Dedication
To Priyabala Mukherjee (1906-1985), who knew the perils;
to Carrie Buck (1906-1983), who experienced them.
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Prologue
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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Wikipedia in English (1)

History. Medical. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML:2017 Audie Award Finalist for Non-Fiction
The #1 NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
The basis for the PBS Ken Burns Documentary The Gene: An Intimate History

From the Pulitzer Prize‚??winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies‚??a fascinating history of the gene and "a magisterial account of how human minds have laboriously, ingeniously picked apart what makes us tick" (Elle).

"Sid Mukherjee has the uncanny ability to bring together science, history, and the future in a way that is understandable and riveting, guiding us through both time and the mystery of life itself." ‚??Ken Burns
"Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee dazzled readers with his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies in 2010. That achievement was evidently just a warm-up for his virtuoso performance in The Gene: An Intimate History, in which he braids science, history, and memoir into an epic with all the range and biblical thunder of Paradise Lost" (The New York Times). In this biography Mukherjee brings to life the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.

"Mukherjee expresses abstract intellectual ideas through emotional stories...[and] swaddles his medical rigor with rhapsodic tenderness, surprising vulnerability, and occasional flashes of pure poetry" (The Washington Post). Throughout, the story of Mukherjee's own family‚??with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness‚??reminds us of the questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In riveting and dramatic prose, 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.

"A fascinating and often sobering history of how humans came to understand the roles of genes in making us who we are‚??and what our manipulation of those genes might mean for our future" (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel), The Gene is the revelatory and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master. "The Gene is a book we all should read

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