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The Gene: An Intimate History (2016)

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,073646,579 (4.19)118
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author draws on his scientific knowledge and research to describe the magisterial history of a scientific idea, the quest to decipher the master-code of instructions that makes and defines humans; that governs our form, function, and fate; and that determines the future of our children. The story of the gene begins in earnest in an obscure Augustinian abbey in Moravia in 1856 where Gregor Mendel, a monk working with pea plants, stumbles on the idea of a "unit of heredity." It intersects with Darwin's theory of evolution, and collides with the horrors of Nazi eugenics in the 1940s. The gene transforms postwar biology. It invades discourses concerning race and identity and provides startling answers to some of the most potent questions coursing through our political and cultural realms. It reorganizes our understanding of sexuality, gender identity, sexual orientation, temperament, choice, and free will, thus raising the most urgent questions affecting our personal realms. Above all, the story of the gene is driven by human ingenuity and obsessive minds--from Mendel and Darwin to Francis Crick, James Watson, and Rosalind Franklin to the thousands of scientists working today to understand the code of codes. Woven through the book is the story of Mukherjee's own family and its recurring pattern of schizophrenia, a haunting reminder that the science of genetics is not confined to the laboratory but is vitally relevant to everyday lives. The moral complexity of genetics reverberates even more urgently today as we learn to "read" and "write" the human genome--unleashing the potential to change the fates and identities of our children and our children's children.--Adapted from dust jacket.… (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 118 mentions

English (63)  French (1)  All languages (64)
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
I think, there are two important parts to this book, the comprehensive, detailed overview of the history of genetics from Mendel to the present day and the in-depth, science behind the headlines look at the important and sometimes controversial work being done today.

Just like The Emperor of Maladies, I found myself thinking back to the headlines I had read or the brief news stories in mainstream media regarding topics like IVF, Stem Cell research, etc... and realizing how much was left unsaid or inaccurately presented in the media. To me, a lot of this was eye-opening and gave me a greater depth of understanding than I would have had from just reading pieces in my local newspaper. I even found myself re-evaluating some of my previously held opinions.

I have a personal connection with both of Mukherjee's books, my adoptive father went through and eventually passed away from esophageal cancer...diagnosed in November, gone in July. I watched this happen as a 13 year old child and watching my adoptive father's deterioration is something that is still etched in my mind. This was the late 70s when the use of chemo and radiation was a lot less nuanced and the effects on the patient, a lot more radical. The Emperor of Maladies really allowed me to put that in perspective and I was able to think back about a lot of conversations between my mother and father and make some realizations about what it was that they were going through.

My biological father was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the late 60s and eventually institutionalized. My parents divorced and I had little contact with my father after that but I remember thinking about and asking my mother about the possibility of developing the illness later in life. His doctor had told my mother the chances were slim unless both my mother and father had it...he probably downplayed and, I realize, did not have the knowledge of schizophrenia that they have now. After reading The Gene, I realize "slim chance" is not really an adequate description of the possibility of inheriting the illness. Food for thought...not only for me but about my two boys.

This...is a very good book...and I recommend it to anyone willing to open their mind to understanding what makes us, us. ( )
  DarrinLett | Aug 14, 2022 |
Genetics is a field of biomedical research that is both in motion and influential over our daily lives. It promises to help millions afflicted with horrific disease, yet it could be poised to change (or unravel?) human life as we seek to write our own destinies in DNA. Real action in this field has only occurred in the last 200 years, starting with Gregor Mendel and accelerating in the early twentieth century. Mukherjee, an oncologist (cancer doctor) with ample writing talents, authors this field’s history in engaging fashion. Importantly, he carefully deals not just with the science but with the human bioethical concerns.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve been aware of the history of genetics and have picked up this or that along the way. Thus, I have heard of most of the broad outline that Mukherjee has to offer. However, in each stage of this story, he contributes nuanced nuggets that shape the story, nuggets new to me. His writing talents about the history of medicine and science are well-acknowledged as he has won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2010 history of cancer. He simply extends that formidable skill into describing one of the most happening fields in contemporary research.

Because of his excellence in writing and research, I don’t have much to offer in terms of critique. His ethical perspectives are well-balanced and circumspect (even though this is not primarily a bioethical text). He even provides personal stories of his family which bring underlying passions to life. He touches all the bases of a good scientific history to maximize impact while maintaining a detached approach to matters of opinion. Therefore, it’s no surprise that it has won numerous, prestigious awards (though, lamentably, not another Pulitzer).

Obviously, professionals in fields directly touched by genetics can benefit most from reading this: geneticists, historians of science, oncologists, and microbiologists. But this book’s horizons certainly extend to the general public. Investors, cultural critics, influencers, and fans of science (among many others) can all get a scoop on how history is unfolding or a primer about a hot but difficult cultural topic. Students – whether aspiring scientists in high school or college students seeking sophistication – are obvious target audiences. Overall, this provides an excellent treatment for anyone interested in whether and how we can write human destiny, either through small cures or possibly stunningly large, potentially scary rewrites. ( )
  scottjpearson | Jul 4, 2022 |
It was a beautiful and engaging information in one package.
Siddhartha is a natural story teller with amazing understanding of how to teach and tell.
I'm amazed. ( )
  ftfarshad | Mar 20, 2022 |
قصة الحياة هي سلسلة مكتوبة بأبجدية من خمسة حروف.
رحلة في تاريخ وحاضر ومستقبل علم الجينات وتطبيقاته بلغة سردية جميلة وأمثلة ذكية تجعله كتاباً ممتعاً ومثيراً للاهتمام لمن يريد إغناء معرفته في هذا المجال. ( )
  TonyDib | Jan 28, 2022 |
Solid. If you know me well, you'll know that schizophrenia attracts me like a magnet, so this book got me right away. I found the first section to be old news, but then Darwin and those peas were a HUGE point in high school and my college biology class.

The eugenics section was sick... and the sex/ gender section should be required reading for most people these days. It's a complicated monster of a book. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (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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The Pulitzer Prize-winning author draws on his scientific knowledge and research to describe the magisterial history of a scientific idea, the quest to decipher the master-code of instructions that makes and defines humans; that governs our form, function, and fate; and that determines the future of our children. The story of the gene begins in earnest in an obscure Augustinian abbey in Moravia in 1856 where Gregor Mendel, a monk working with pea plants, stumbles on the idea of a "unit of heredity." It intersects with Darwin's theory of evolution, and collides with the horrors of Nazi eugenics in the 1940s. The gene transforms postwar biology. It invades discourses concerning race and identity and provides startling answers to some of the most potent questions coursing through our political and cultural realms. It reorganizes our understanding of sexuality, gender identity, sexual orientation, temperament, choice, and free will, thus raising the most urgent questions affecting our personal realms. Above all, the story of the gene is driven by human ingenuity and obsessive minds--from Mendel and Darwin to Francis Crick, James Watson, and Rosalind Franklin to the thousands of scientists working today to understand the code of codes. Woven through the book is the story of Mukherjee's own family and its recurring pattern of schizophrenia, a haunting reminder that the science of genetics is not confined to the laboratory but is vitally relevant to everyday lives. The moral complexity of genetics reverberates even more urgently today as we learn to "read" and "write" the human genome--unleashing the potential to change the fates and identities of our children and our children's children.--Adapted from dust jacket.

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