The Gene

The Gene

An Intimate History

Book - 2016
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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" ( USA TODAY ).
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2016
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781476733524
Characteristics: xi, 592 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm


From the critics

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Sep 07, 2020

This must be by far the most captivating book on the history of a subject/field. Siddhartha Mukherjee truly has mastered the art of writing history in a very captivating way. The book is highly informative, very very research oriented, and seldom makes it monotonous.
There are a ton of plus points with this book, so, I'll start with the shortcomings, which are fewer. Firstly, the chapter names don't tell you what the chapter is about, so it's hard to re-read certain interesting topics without explicitly noting down. The quotes at the beginning of the chapter are also, while quirky, not very sensical. Secondly, in all of this, I was hoping there would be a section dedicated to savants and the genetic research on them. But there wasn't any. Same with all the computational work going on about protein folding etc. But these can be discounted easily given the amazing way the rest of the story is narrated!

Firstly, the name is very apt, both "The Gene" and the "An Intimate History" parts. It starts all the way from Pytagorean theory of the idea of Genetics (that dude is practically everywhere). Then a bit of Aristotle, medievals etc lead us to the first generation heroes of the subject - Mendel and Darwin. Their stories have been narrated in a fascinating manner teeming with trivia! Mendel's landmark presentation and its lacklustre reception, Darwin's fame, Darwin's cousin - Sir Francis Galton's dabbling with Eugenics etc are a treat to read about.

Then a second wave of heroes spring up with Bateson and his rekindling of Mendel's efforts, the work of de Vries, Lamarck, Wallace etc which culminates with the cut-throat and the most brilliant experimental geneticist Rosalind Franklin's efforts to photograph the DNA, and finally Watson and Crick's modeling of the same, giving rise to the iconic Double Helix.

The rest of the book talks about a variety of topics, like cloning, the genetic link of Haemophilia, Sickle Cell Anaemia (and even its link to Russian revolution), Schrodinger's "What is Life" essay (again, this dude is everywhere too, pun intended), it even has the mentioning of PaanDu Roga of ancient India (remember PanDu from Mahabharatha?), CRISPR (cas9), the ethics of gene therapy, the story of the discovery of Islets of Langerhans and invention of Insulin, Human Genome Project and our 20,000 odd genes, patent wars between Genentech and others involved in the invention (or discovery) or new genes and their mechanisms, Morgan's Fly Room experiments and the mind boggling emergence of flies with altered structures etc.

The book also does a great job at explaining the mechanism of how the gene works and why it's not a one way street between genotype and phenotype, but a full circle that encompasses the environment. Overall, I found this book absolutely incredible, something I'd use to get inspired about all the work it takes to create something brand new.

Sep 04, 2020

I understand why this book is popular. Right from the start it reads like a suspense novel. Author Dr. Mukherjee uses many styles, ranging from detailed scientific explanations to simple analogies. He mentions the many people past and present, famous and not-so-famous, who advanced the science. He also addresses eugenics and other horrible abuses. A minor difficulty for me was dealing with the numerous multi-page footnotes. Overall a scientifically satisfying, inspiring, and cautionary piece of work.

Oct 06, 2019

This is an excellent book on genetics.
It is a book that has explained many things in biology that I, being in Physics and Math, didn't really understand before.
It reads like a novel.
Another book that complements this one is: She Has Her Mother's Laugh, The Power, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer, 2018
Both books are quite long, but the length is necessary to cover all the topics.
I have read both books more than once - it seems each time I read them there are many things that I have missed in the first reading. Will have to read them carefully a third time.

The general public has no idea the interesting developments that have happened in this field that is so personal.

Definitely a 5 star.
Orland Hooge

Apr 04, 2019

what is it about genes? from shalit to siskel, genes have been drawn to film criticism like a moth to a flame. at the cineplex they gather, basking in the glow of movie magic. not content to merely revel in a film's sights and sounds, they then take to the typewriter, sharing their experience with one and all. but what happens when a gene finds its way to the OTHER side of the silver screen (gene hackman)? mukherjee, in not exploring this topic, has written a very bad and boring book

Mar 03, 2019

For a well written, generally accessible to the layman, broad, and insightful history of the science & pseudoscience of inheritance and genetics, this is the book. Although it is well documented that the author Siddhartha Mukherjee did not get everything correct, as a physician he has the background to understand the science & how it may apply to current medical practice and he is gifted with the ability to explain these ideas in ways that non-geneticist can grasp. The intimate part of the title, I surmise is due to the the author's engaging approach of coming back to how this topic touches his families (& our ) lives. Towards the end, author explores the bioethics challenges that we as citizens will need to face given current and very near future genetic engineering technology.

Nov 14, 2017

An easy read. Mukherjee delved into the personalities of various scientists involved in studies of the gene, which assisted my understanding of the development of their theories. The use of his own family history grounded me in the application of these theories. His examples; his descriptions; everything was so lucid. I found his discussion of gender and gender identity very interesting. The penultimate section (Post Genome) raised all kinds of red flags as to the future of humanity.
Anybody with even minimal curiosity about genetics should read this book.

May 22, 2017

This very long book (500 pages of text) is mainly a history book. It takes 300 pages just to get to this century.

Apr 12, 2017

I love this book so much - it brings tears to my eyes. Although I'm not an anti-scientist, it's nothing I've been drawn to in my life as I'm, generally, confused and befuddled by the language and theory... sometimes I feel as though I'm sinking in quicksand when trying to trudge through an article on ideas that have my interest. Here - still very much science (and still difficult for me to assimilate) - is a read that left me breathless and wanting more... Were I a teacher (literature for me), this book would be an assignment. I'm brimming with new and terrifying thots - resonating with his descriptive phrase of "ethical vertigo". History, Science, Psychology --- Humanity, and a personal saga - Recommend highly.

Jan 16, 2017

Warning: this book can cause white supremacists to run out in the sun and start hitting themselves violently in the head, sometimes even with a baseball bat that resembles some tools once used by neanderthals.

beacutfelgroluc2014utr Dec 24, 2016

Superb read.

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Dec 17, 2016

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Dec 04, 2017

History of genetics from point of view of doctor whose brother, father and grandfathr were schizophrenic; he turns out bipolar


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