The Gene

The Gene

An Intimate History

eBook - 2016
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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.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2016.
ISBN: 9781476733531
Characteristics: 1 online resource (xi, 592 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates) : illustrations (some color)


From Library Staff

Much as he did for cancer in An Emperor of Maladies, Mukherjee provides the history of genetics, from the earliest conceptions of the field to the discovery of the gene and the implications of what Mukherjee refers to as the "dangerous idea" that followed. But Mukherjee’s personal stori... Read More »

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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

Tylerharvey thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


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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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