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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
justin duke
Great history of genetics from simple Mendelian genetics to modern capabilities and the ethical issues surrounding them Easy to read You don't need to have a genetics background Better than the Emperor of all Maladies A history of Cancer
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shane
One f the most compelling books I have ever read , Mukherjee does a good job of making the subject (mostly) understandable. It is fascinating , important, changes my world view. It is worth the effort it takes to read this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nikki temkin
The Gene inspired these questions about my grandson’s exceptional stage presence:

From whom did he inherit charisma
Multiple genes on the Y chromosome
Such talent packed into mitochondria
A combination of both nurtured at home
When :: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope :: an Official Publication of The Napoleon Hill Foundation :: A Dog's Purpose Boxed Set :: Gratitude
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
dinah
Fairly certain I didn't select Large Print, just paperback. And as I've never bought a large print before on the store, I don't see why that would be the default. It's a bit of BS that the check-out also only says "Paperback".... Not unhappy with the content of the book. But I am unhappy about the aesthetics and size....
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
melissa swanson
A great survey of 150 year history of heredity, evolution and genetics. From Father Mendel's pea breeding experiments in 1865, to the discovery of double helix structure of DNA, from Nazi's hideous human experiment in eugenics (by the way the Americans started it), to the controversial discovery of "gay gene", from the author's own family history of schizofrenia, to the creation of insulin through gene recombination, the book is full of fascinating stories and great insights, making it as engaging as can be for a nonfiction. Then there is this great treatise how the discoveries in genetics make "nature vs. nurture' arguments irrelevant, and how humans are becoming their own god through various means of gene manipulation. Harari said in <Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind> that the next evolution of homo sapiens would be robots with artificial intteligence; but I think genetics would change the face of sapien society and sapiens themselves to the point of way beyond recognition. For the moment, scientists can still self-regulate to avoid researches with ethics implications, but given the not-so-great track records of humans, it is only a matter of time that Pandora is let out of box, and a much healthier, much stronger, and much smarter super race might just push out us homo sapiens, just like we pushed out Neanderthals. The best outcome might be that homo sapiens become subservient to its own creation, the new super race. But self-fulfillment and democracy as we know it would be no more.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
grace bridges
Siddhartha Mukherjee's history of the discipline of genetics is without question the most definitive account of this field of biology published to date and is likely to remain so. Though gifted with a superb vocabulary and exceptional command of the English language, Mukherjee's writing sometimes borders on the flowery, deploying words, phrases and sentences that smack of a quest for erudition for its on sake when simplicity would have served just as well.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
thom leiter
Siddhartha Mukherjee's deftly narrated medical history of his family is the web that holds his historical account of the birth, progression and understanding of genetics in this fascinating book. Mukherjee writes about the recurrence of schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder in several members of his family. He dedicates the book to his grandmother, who cared for one of her afflicted descendants with fierce and protective and unwavering love.
Throughout the book, from the work of the Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel and his experiments with peas, through Darwin's insights, a couple of horrific accounts of the eugenics enthusiasms in the English-speaking world first, and then in the hell of Nazi Germany, Mukherjee advances the re-telling of the genetics trajectory. No easy reading this for the faint of heart.
Following the discoveries and advances in the field of genetics chronologically, from Mendel to CRISPR, this book is a manual for the uninitiated, like me, as well as a tight summary for the student of this very vibrant endeavor. Although some of the fantasies still being bandied about in genetics, like the "alteration of genes in reproductive cells to create permanently amended human genomes -- 'germ-line gene therapy'" may send chills down the spines of some readers, Mukherjee hints at the inevitability of such "advances." Eugenics by any other name? This development is a transformative, exciting, and scary technology that needs to be handled with extra caution. Mukherjee ends the book with the following statement:
We seek constancy in heredity— and find its opposite: variation. Mutants are necessary to maintain the essence of our selves. Our genome has negotiated a fragile balance between counterpoised forces, pairing strand with opposing strand, mixing past and future, pitting memory against desire. It is the most human of all things that we possess. Its stewardship may be the ultimate test of knowledge and discernment for our species. Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene: An Intimate History (p. 482). Scribner. Kindle Edition.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tracey ramey
This book was chosen for our book club. As such, it was much more of an academic effort than our usual more casual reads. It could be described as a text book for a science class. I found it educational and it helps to understand where our gene therapy research is going. It was interesting that the author intertwined hereditary mental health issues from his own family into the book. The author is clearly an acclaimed scientist, but he is also able to describe the history of this body of knowledge in an understandable way. The current quest to perfect human genome problems certainly presents major ethical questions, which made this body of research disturbing to consider.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
haydee
Only half way finished but loving it. He is an amazing writer....makes scientific concepts so clear even for those with little science background. I am in the molecular biology field and so far have found no errors nor biases.I read his "Emperor of all Maladies" and it is among my top 10 books ever read.
Read them both!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kaysha
I have been a reader of science for most of my life and was somewhat familiar with much of what Dr. Mukherjee presented. This brilliant book brought it all together for me. Some of his writing was inspired and inspiring. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand how genetics evolved and where it is going. Profoundly affecting non-fiction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
charlene radler
No easy read nor easy ride. It starts with a simplistic innuendo but it grow in depth and seriousness. As we are all talking about almost real time events, the book deserves to be read and continously studied. It is a great start.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
matt london
Dr. Mukherjee’s earlier book, The Emperor of All Maladies, a book on cancer, is on my list of all-time top ten books. His new book is also at or close to the same level: It is a six star book on a scale of one to five. Dr. Mukherjee writes beautifully and with extraordinary clarity on very difficult technical subjects, moving effortlessly from complex, detailed biochemical processes to enormous ethical issues affecting our very future as a species.

This book is a masterful story of the history of genetics, starting from Mendel and Darwin right up to the latest gene modification processes; it is the clearest and most comprehensive account that I have read. But it is much more because Dr. Mukherjee introduces us to human dramas involving both researchers and patients. He also sets out the moral issues of our growing power to change the genomes not only of living people and embryos but also of descendants who have yet to be conceived.

Woven through the book is the personal story of Dr. Mukherjee’s family, which has a history of schizophrenia. Two of Dr. Mukherjee’s uncles and one of his first cousins suffered the devastating effects of schizophrenia and he lives with the possibility that he, too, may someday be struck down and/or have passed the disruptive genes on to his children.

This is not a lightweight book but I found it easy to read, thanks to the elegance of the writing, and totally gripping. As Dr. Mukherjee makes clear, we stand on the brink of a genetic future that has great promise and also great peril. This is an important book and deserves to be widely read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ycunningham
worth reading, but imho not as good as Emperor. rambling and preachy in parts, even reprating himself, as if he wrote the parts at different times and forgot that he has described that already. worse, he glosses over technical detail, as if in a hurry, perhaps. i get that it's not a technical book, but he explains well in oher places, wo being overly technical.

all that said, i do recommend the read. like a band who's had an amazing first album, it's not too surprising when the second one is good, just not *as* good.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
john bailey
Not as riveting as The King of All Maladies, but definitely a well written narrative about genes and genetics. I like how he weaved his personal story into the fact and science of genetics. A long book but worth the time to read in chunks.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
tonya egeland parton
The author's earlier book about cancer had all kinds of information that was new to me. This one, not so much. Most of the material about Mendel, Darwin, DNA, etc. was familiar. So was the material about Asilomar and worries about genetic engineering. If you haven't been following any of this, I suppose you'd have a different reaction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
dwayne pate
It is further proof that the incredible complexity of life can't possibly be the result of serendipitous evolutionary trial and error adjustments to changing environment. Life required monumental design. A big bang doesn't have the intelligence to do so.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
judd karlman
Outstanding and readable explanation detailing the development of the science of genomics from Plato's first theories to the current state of knowledge. One gets a true sense of how this science area was built discovery by discovery over many centuries. Yet there is a sense that the past is truly prolog to what is coming in just the next few years.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sskacan
Amazing history of the gene. The author also carefully and cautiously establishes the moral dilemma of gene therapy - the benefits and the risks. The authors many examples of the amazing complexity supports an amazing creator, although the author attempt to explain it away.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
viktoriya maslyak
Another stellar, intelligible, and first-rate book from Mukherjee. A much longer and deeper read then his "The Laws of Medicine" book, but worth every minute you spend on it. It's not only an intimate history (as the title claims), it's also a complete and readable history. I feel the book's also useful as a simple(-ish) reference book. Absolutely recommended!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brian slattery
The author provides an historical perspective on a very difficult and scientific subject and makes it easily understood. The author threads vignettes of his family into the subject matter making the writing seem personal and thus provides a connection with the reader to humanize the science. Wonderful writing and storytelling.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
monica medina
Gene technology is far more advanced than I realized and knowledge of the workings of the human genome is less than I thought. What is known is astonishing, and we need to be more aware of what is going on so that intelligent discussions can be made by a broad base of humans and cultures prior to opening another Pandora's box. I highly recommend this book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
carolyn kriete
How disappointing. First, I should be clear: This not a popular science book about genetics. It is closer to a history of theories of phenotypic inheritance and then a history of milestones in homing in on the genome as the mechanism of such inheritance, and, lastly, a musing on all the obvious ethical dilemmas posed by human gene editing. Siddhartha Mukherjee is a very gifted author and I found his "The Emperor of All Maladies" (a not wholly dissimilar book) almost spellbinding. On the other hand, I was more ignorant on that book's subject than I am on the topics treated here. This book was simply not going anywhere new or good for me nor would it be for many potential readers.

If, in the popular sense, you know much about generics or the history of science or anything at all about bioethics then you will learn very little to nothing from this book. It may make you think about some things or point out something new, but not often. That sounds harsh, but this is a decidedly entry-level popular historo-scientific survey of genetics accompanied by an ambiguous and tepid moral contemplation of the sort that seems to be typical if medical doctors as a profession. It is very nicely written and, for people who have never read in any of these areas before, it could be very profitable. For me, it was not so profitable. I did encounter a few new things, but these were too few.

In ways that remind one of Mukherjee's 2010 book but go beyond it, "The Gene: An Intimate History" is an unusually personal work. Mukherjee's deliberate and contemplative exploration of his Bengali family's own struggles is one of the things I liked about this read. However, in the treatment of ethical and political issues, the book seems meandering, uncertain of itself and what it believes. Nazi's are clearly super bad, we all know this, but they did some okay stuff and that's important too; abortion is really great, but maybe not all the time, but at least we know it is damned practical--no one can disagree no that. Trisomic children sure are cute sometimes but sometimes less of a good thing is so much better. Be assured yet again, genes are almost certainly not racist. And so on. What at first seems a recognition of the moral complexity of situations eventually comes across as trying to touch on moral issues without giving offense to the wrong people or wandering too far from the most politically correct line. The result is not a very enriching exploration at all.

Still, there are strong elements here and Mukherjee's prose is of very high quality. For a person interested in learning basic history of the science of heritable traits this volume will serve well. For someone who has never thought at all about the issues posed by genetic engineering of humans, this volume will serve to point out some of these.

I feel let down by the inexplicable the level of adulation this work has enjoyed from other reviewers. Nevertheless, I will be watching for Siddhartha Mukherjee's next book and I hope it is better.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kc warrenfeltz
Sweepingly conceived and written, Siddhartha Mukherjee has done it again after his magnificent work on cancer. Genes have to do with our identity; they contribute deeply to who we are.
Genes are here clearly explained in a readable style for readers with or without a science background. Mukherjee is clever and humorous in doing so.
Mukherjee’s strength is that he tells this as a story that you can’t put down. He is a national treasure in this respect.
The story begins with a trip to an asylum where a mentally troubled cousin resides. The concern for genetic trouble and its potential healing is deeply present throughout the book.
The book is roughly divided into two parts. The first part is a vivid history of genetics. The second half meditates on what studying the gene has in store for human biology and medicine.
Looking to the future, Dr. Mukherjee states that “illness might progressively vanish but so might identity. Grief might be diminished but so might tenderness. Traumas might be erased but so might history.”
As in the book on cancer I found the personal description of historical scientists and their work especially interesting. What a treat!
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
hengameh
Previous book on cancer was more informative and worth the read. This book starts with a self involved chapter and never really leaves that basic premise: what makes genetics pertinent to the author is his personal, familial involvement. The writing is not as clear as the previous book and bogs down too often. I am still slogging thru it but finding it much less than the cancer book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
andrea bartlett
Siddhartha Mukherjee's debut novel "The Emperor of All Maladies" is one of my all-time favorite works of nonfiction. I unfortunately cannot say the same about this book. I felt that it had far too much fat, and reading it eventually became a chore. It took me almost 7 months to finish it, and I felt relieved when I was done. Don't get me wrong -- it's still interesting and well written. It's just exhausting. 6/10
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
alisa raymond
The history of genetics up to the discovery of the DNA structure is well-told. Once he started discussing developmental biology and regulation of gene expression, the narrative bogged down badly and I put the book down; I don't intend to resume.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
yasameen
I loved this book. Unlike most science books, this one tells a story. Author Siddhartha Mukherjee weaves a tale about the gene and genetics suitable for readers with or without a science background. So even when I was reading sections that I had learned about in school, it was still hard to put the book down. Mukherjee uses a lot of specific, concrete examples to illustrate his points, even using some of his family’s history. Mukherjee’s writing is very clever and there is some humor, so beside all the great content, the writing is also great. The book is not just about the biological entity of the gene; it is about social and political aspects as well; for example, embryonic stem cells and transgenic organisms. I strongly recommend this book.

I received this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
katyh
The "Emperor of all maladies" was an informative and well balanced narrative. In contrast, The Gene is a laborious read. Sometimes the story read more like a catharsis. I learned a lot but it was often taxing.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
ren e
After The Emperor of All Maladies, a masterpiece, I had high expectations, which The Gene did not meet. It lacked the seamless flow of Emperor, described essential science in terms I could not grasp (perhaps a reflection on me!), and so I've stopped halfway through, doubting whether I will pick it up again. Such an important topic, that's what gets the third star.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
militant asian
The book is too dense, overloaded with complicated and obscure terminology, needless verbiage and convoluted explanations and examples. It is not for the layman. His EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES was an infinitely better and informative read. This effort suffers from lack of professional editing and several rewrites.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
liloh
Spanning 500 pages, I hoped to expand my knowledge of biology and genetics after reading this book. After slogging through this book, I'm not impressed. Anyone that has taken high school biology would be familiar with most of the content; the author goes much deeper into the history and people involved, but not much into technical details. As a result, I found myself skimming when he spends pages and pages explaining something I already knew.

The writing picks up a little bit when he gets to the more modern part, discussing the Human Genome Project, gene therapy, and the possibility for genetically modified humans. However, the author doesn't offer any insightful discussion beyond the usual cliches (for example: genetic screening can be useful but there are ethical concerns if we abort babies, etc). One thing I liked was his storytelling of mental illness of his uncles in the family, and how their diseases connect to genetics. This was the least dry part, but it's not enough to make up for the rest of the book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
molly hocanson
I admire the author's attempt to present this vast topic to a large audience. While understandable to those not familiar with the science of genetics, it is far too long to keep their attention. While the topics might interest those familiar with the science, their lack of depth made it a chore. Like a jazz musician being forced to listen to hours of Kenny G.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
captainlaurie
This set of subtle but remarkable stories, when stitched together, literally makes up the inside story of the whole debate over genetic purity versus genetic diversity, one of the main subtexts of modern biology. This is an exquisite status report on all of the fields that make up modern biology.

One of the most remarkable of facts revealed here is that the men responsible for the theory of evolution were all religiously devout. Their first hypothesis about evolution was “the God creation myth,” the same one recycled today as “Intelligent Design.” However, an irony, among many ironies here, is that these religious men all saw the god creation myth as flawed, and moved on to more fruitful terrain, often while still under Church tutelage. The level of religious tolerance then compared to now, is another inexplicable irony in today’s much more religiously intolerant, mega-church, climate.

Earlier theories by the likes of Aristotle and Plato were not much better than the god myth. They too failed to explain exactly how man’s development became a historical process; or how mechanisms of evolution effected variation and selection. Another irony is that the first clues about how evolution and heredity worked already existed in the practices of animal breeders, who had perfected their own brand of variation through “artificial selection.” They already understood that the search for genetic purity was a fool’s mission, leading to a biological dead end. But what Darwin and Wallace wondered was how did god do naturally what the breeders did artificially? How did nature effect its own selection and variation? They converged to the same abstract theory. One that failed to explain either heredity or variation. But one man had already solved the riddle without knowing he had done so. It would be forty years after Gregor Mendel’s death that his discovery would be recognized as the Rosetta Stone of evolution and modern biology. Mendel had discovered that information at the cellular level was being communicated through a code as a unit of heredity, and then was being transferred to the organism as sets of instructions. There were two mechanisms involved: the gene, which explained heredity; and mutations, which explained variation.

No one knew the role either played at the time of Mendel’s work, but this lack of understanding did not prevent the politicians from prematurely highjacking the nascent idea and using it for what they thought were well-meaning but morally questionable purposes. They sought to use their half-knowledge in the most dangerous way, to “improve the species”

In the wake of public concerns over immigration, not unlike today in “Trump’s America,” Germany and the US made aggressive presentations promoting “racial hygiene” at the London Conference of 1924. A eugenics movement bent on improving the species by “cleansing the human garden of its most dangerous weeds,” quickly followed. And in less than a decade, Mendel’s ideas had ceased to be abstractions. They had become the main object of racial politics, one pre-packaged with its own logic of “racial hygiene,” a new vocabulary of demagogic racist metaphors, and all of the political imperatives and power needed to give them agency. “Well-meaning” politicians and policy makers, had jumped the gun and prematurely highjacked an idea thought to be proper genetics. It wasn’t. With America in the lead, the world was on a glide path to weaponizing racism, a path leading directly towards Adolph Hitler’s moral abyss, one that would not end until millions were exterminated in the name of “Aryan purity.” The seductive “myth of racial purity” was now coupled with what is still seen as the most pragmatic reason for “ethnic cleansing:” “increasing racial hygiene” to “maintain racial purity.” These two ideas had taken firm root in the loose moral soil of the early 20th Century.

The world never quite regained its moral virginity, nor its moral equilibrium, as it continues even today to teeter between an unholy infatuation with theories of racial improvement through genetic purity, and firmly held religious beliefs that all men are created equal as “brothers in Christ” The former infatuation had begun even before we understood the full meaning and importance of the gene. A little bit of knowledge indeed had been stretched into a dangerous thing. For even though animal breeders had proven that “genetic purity” made no sense in the biological world, by the start of WW-II, it had become the sine qua non of “Race Science.” But even then the facts of biology were incontrovertible: biology has never been about genetic purity, but about genetic variety and diversity.

As scientists would discover in the decades just before the European holocaust. “race science” had been weaponized as misguided missiles, a mindless runaway train that willfully ignored the teachings both of Christ and the nascent fields of molecular and evolutionary biology. Those driving the train had ignored the fact that the true formula for improved racial hygiene was not:

Pure Genotype - Mixed genotype = Diluted Phenotype.
But: Genotype + Environment + Triggers + Chance = Phenotype.

Decoded bluntly, variation in nature is the norm, not gene purity. In fact without deep genetic diversity, pure genes would eventually fade away. No genotype is inherently superior because they depend on the “gene-environment link,” and on chance mutations in their struggle to survive: One man’s mutant is another man’s pure gene.

How could so much revolve around a notion of genetic purity when so little was known about either heredity, evolution or natural selection? A grand synthesis of these three areas would make it clear that promoters of genetic purity were barking up the wrong tree. But as we see even today, bad ideas die hard, when they die at all.

Even though the imprint of the genetic mechanism could be seen in its output, the true nature of a gene remained buried under the language of abstraction. Without knowing its true physical nature, the gene was described as a mere “particle of heredity,” one that at least in humans, only moved vertically, from parent to offspring. But this was not to be the case with other forms of life. At lower orders, like at the level of bacteria, genes could actually exit the cell barrier, and in pure chemical form, without the benefit of reproduction, be transmitted laterally from the inter-cellular soup into another organism.

It thus was not just a matter of transmitting messages from cell-to-cell via a code after all, but a molecule-to-molecule transmission of a hereditary unit. Indeed, with the discovery of the gene, biology had become chemistry. The cell was merely a flask of chemicals bound by a membrane that interacted across cell barriers to produce the phenomenon we call life. But equally important was the fact that it was the physical structure of the molecule that enables its chemical nature; form, permitted function.

In January 1928, Frederick Griffith had published a paper that proved that he alone had discovered a possible chemical basis for heredity. Hermann Muller, from Austin Texas, would follow this up by demonstrating that mutation rates could be sped up by applying low doses of radiation to cells.

Griffith had made genes move between organisms, while Muller had shown that whatever a gene was, it was capable of motion, transmission, and energy-induced change — all properties formerly associated only with chemical matter. Muller imagined that when the evolutionary cycle was pushed into hyperdrive, new species could be produced in the lab, actively replacing the main responsibility previously reserved only for the gods. In short, together they had proven something far more important: that heredity could be manipulated, and quite easily at that.

Seeing the enormous potential for harm, Muller established a Biological group for positive Eugenics. But it was already too late, as he quickly realized that positive eugenics — using genetics to relieve suffering (as opposed to achieving genetic perfection) — could only be done in societies already without inequality: Equality was a prerequisite for establishing institutions of positive rather than negative Eugenics and not the other way around.

Depressed at growing racism in America, and hounded because of his liberal ideas, Muller literally jumped out of the frying pan into the skillet, when he emigrated to Germany just as Adolph Hitler came to power. It would be a fateful move because Nazism would prove to be nothing if not the worst-case example of misapplied genetic theory.

Despite this, the search for understanding the genetic code continued. Watson and Crick realized that “form” had to become “function:” that the genetic code had to be written into the material of the DNA. A physical attribute like hair color, had to be an indivisible unit of heredity information. It had to be a gene in the form of DNA from chromosomes carried from parent to child. But there was yet a further step: What was the relationship between a gene for red hair for instance, and redness itself — between information and its physical manifestation?

It would take fancy laboratory footwork to answer questions such as this. And as it turns out, the gene is a physical molecule, a unitary carrier of information lying within a biological structure called Chromatin. Proteins and nucleic acids also reside there.

Cells depend on chemical reactions in order to live, and proteins control these reactions just enough to sustain the life of a cell. In addition to being the workhorse of the cell, the very physical manifestation of cells is also as proteins. They are its receptors, hormones, signaling molecules, etc. Nearly every cellular function — metabolism, respiration, cell division, self-defense, waste disposal, secretion, signaling, growth and even cellular death, requires proteins.

Nucleic acids on the other hand, came in two forms DNA and RNA, both long chains made up of four bases, ACGT. These became the conveyor belt of chemicals that made up the code of the biological world. But how was the information they carried stored and conveyed?

Exacting experiments proved not only that it was DNA that induced predictable hereditary changes, but also that the information within a gene was embedded within its helical structure, where “form” doubled in the role of “function.” That is to say, it is the helical structure of DNA that holds and encodes the gnome, which the RNA then copies and translates into instructions for making proteins.

These facts were discovered at about the same time the horrors of Auschwitz were being exposed. Even before the gene was discovered, the pretext of genetic improvement was already permanently defacing humanity.

The darkest irony of all in this book is that “race purity” is exactly the opposite of how healthy genetics work. Had the Nazis and the US Eugenics movement really been concerned about the genetic health of our species, they would have recognized that genetic variety and genetic diversity is the “way of the biological world” and is the only thing that leads to biological heath, not a vain search for the elusive pure gene.

This is not something that man has not known. Indeed, that is why we have rules against incest, and why animal breeders looked for foreign strains to re-energize the thoroughbred bloodlines. Somehow these notions got lost in the shuffle of fewer and fewer people condoning off more and more wealth for themselves. Genetic purity and survival of the fittest were the perfect rationales for explaining away the inequality in wealth in capitalist countries. Ten Stars

Summary Notes

As animals struggle to survive, the best adapted variants, the fittest mutations, are serially selected. Their children inherit these mutations generating new species. Natural selection operates on the gene, not on the organism. Thus, a chicken is the egg’s way of making a better egg.

John Galton, the father of Eugenics, coined the phrase “nature versus nurture,” but still got it wrong, by trying to model heredity by measuring humans rather than by measuring changes in their genes. Galton also believed it was man’s duty to improve upon God, the blind watchmaker’s, work through both positive and negative eugenics. As a result, in 1927 Indiana sterilized Carrie Buck determining her to be an imbecile. Hitler took notice of the US eugenics program, and by the time the gene was understood, genetics had already become a by-product of the language of racial hatred.

Genes come to life as parents contribute a set of instructions which are decoded to produce a child. They guide the flow of information from organism to organism. DNA reproduces DNA; and genes make proteins that regulate genes and provide instructions for RNA, which provide instructions to build proteins that enable structure and function.

Mutations generate variations in nature by damaging and altering the sequence of DNA, which changes the structure and function of the proteins they effect. A second method is swapping genetic information between chromosomes.

Sexual reproduction demands the collapse of an organism into a cell, then expanding it back into an organism. We can’t reproduce the boat carrying the genome plank-by-plank, because it is not made up of planks, but of relationships. A gene is one line in a recipe that specifies an organism; the human genome is the full recipe that specifies a human. Genetic mutations are selected over millennia; cultural mutations, memes, one the other hand, can be selected in a few years.

Using a vector to cut and splice, recombinant DNA allows identities borrowed from two organisms to be shuffled to form a new one. Bacteria are the ideal vectors since they already freely trade in genetic materials. Three bases of DNA are read together to encode one amino acid in a protein — the sentence is encoded by genes, using alphabets strung together in chains. Regulation of genes provides the context for words and sentences to generate meanings. The sequence carries the meaning.

Biologists progressed from stamp collectors, to mutant hunters, to gene manipulators and decoders. Cloning allowed them to extract genes from organisms, manipulate them in test tubes, produce hybrids, and propagate them back into organisms. The biochemist distills forms, then clones and amplifies information. Recombinant DNA makes the language of genes recursive.

Viruses are professional gene carriers that must infect and reproduce to live. Genetic wellness and genetic illness are not neighboring countries but a single continuous kingdom. Therefore, we should be wary of an emerging genetic-industrial complex. Most human illnesses like cancer, or abilities like intelligence, do not arise from single gene mutations but from complex causes involving many factors. The archetypal genetic disease is cancer, the result of heredity, the environment, evolution and chance all mixed together.

Evolution is a metronome, ticktocking through mutations. Genetic diversity acts as a molecular clock with variations organizing familial relationships. Mutations in mitochondrial genes are passed intact across generations and they accumulate overtime without crossing over, making the genetic mitochondrial genome the ideal genetic timekeeper. Humans are endowed with the evolutionary history of their species in genomes. It is like carrying a picture of our ancestors in our wallet. A sperm is a glorified delivery vehicle for the genome, equipped with a hyperactive tail.

The diversity within any racial group dominates the diversity between groups, and does so by an enormous amount. IQ was the resultant of tests developed for other purposes, later given the label “intelligence,” and somehow became associated with genes? But IQ is as much associated with the environment as with genes, and since it is even more sensitive to context, it is impossible to study genetic effects on IQ without eliminating environmental differences. In the end, IQ is a cultural meme masquerading as a gene. And while, just as there is no “straight gene,” there is also no “gay gene.” There are several determinants influencing sexual identity, thus there could be regions where sexual genes may be found.

Of all the sciences, biology is the most lawless, with only a few universal laws, which are bent to the breaking point in order to help reverse entropy. Life flourishes by reading between the lines.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
sheilla allen
Captivating tales of gene discovery. The author has an extraordinary command of the English language but he sometimes displays it to excess with too many verbose detours, obscure literary quotes, and repetition. And all the examples of personal family history of insanity belong in another book.
But even this well informed author, in spite of his erudition, goes off the rails on the genetics of race and IQ in favor of the wrong, but politically correct.
He parrots the old liberal chestnut that intraracial diversity exceeds interracial diversity. Well duh! That's true but states nothing but the obvious. If IQ can vary from say zero to 200, that's an obvious range of 200 and it's Gaussian distributed.
But a mean IQ of 85, 100, and 115, all with a standard deviation of 15, by blacks, whites, and Ashkenazie Jews, respectively cannot simply be waived away by political commissars. A one standard deviation in mean IQ is extremely significant.
Considering all the bizarre gene and behavior examples the author gives he notably omits the trait of aggression. Modern genetics has shown that the trait is heritable and revealed in gene expression. One of the genes associated with aggression, discovered in 1993, is MAO-A. Recent genetics studies reveal that black American males are 50 times more likely to carry the violence linked variation of MAO-A promoters than white American males. For more on the subject read, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History,” by Nicholas Wade, Apr 28, 2015.
The sections on political influences on genetics are eye glazing, soporific, irrelevant, and not worth the time and effort to read.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
gina hernandez
After reading Dr. Mukherjee's fantastic first book (The Emperor of All Maladies), I was disappointed to find this book to be a very slow and difficult read. It was hard to follow technically (for a non-expert) and also chronologically. Perhaps more a reflection on me rather than him, but I cannot recommend it.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
nick catucci
The first half was quite good. It's a pity that the second half was so awful since that''s mostly what I'm going to remember about this book.

The second half (the last 200 pages anyway) are a load of fuzzy, hand-waving rubbish about how great the potential of genetic engineering is but that we shouldn't be worried that it's going to be used to turn the human race into a vast hive of workaholic social insects. The reason he has to work so hard to push this point is because it's totally untrue. Becoming workaholic social insects has been the tendency for the human race for the past 200,000 years. Progress was slow for many millennia but it's been at full gallop for the past 10,000 years.

The quality of the writing suffers in this book. There are many jarring, non-standard work uses and way too many inane and distracting similes and analogies. It's like he's reaching desperately to get through to a dim-witted child.

And I found the material about the mental illness in the author's family to be gratuitous and narcissistic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
josh sands
This is an elegantly written primer on genetics that brings the reader up to date with developments over the past generation. Most striking is Dr. Mukherjee's treatment of the genetics of race and gender and his discussion of the politics of genetics. He shows that the y chromosome that determines gender carry very little other information. Race too is simply not associated with many of the secondary traits that the popular imagination adds to race. Mukherjee makes the compelling argument that we attach to race and gender far more significance than is justified by biology. As for the politics of genetics, Mukherjee shows how the Soviets and Nazis used crude, bastardized genetics to support their opposing political arguments. The Soviets argued that acquired traits could be passed on genetically, indicating the importance of society. The Nazis argued that race determined the traits necessary to survive. Each was half-baked in its arguments, and the sorry history of eugenics in the 20th century show the danger of having just a little information.

Mukherjee shows the extraordinary advances in genetics allowing the mapping of the human genome and the effectiveness of genetically focused cancer treatments. In the end, though, he leaves the impression that we have just scratched the surface in this area and are a long way from the Brave New World of biological engineering.

This is beautifully done and on par with Mukherjee's previous prize winning book on cancer
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mark krueger
This book is a valuable resource for the study and history of the gene and tells us about the researchers and their tenacious pursuit in readable language. As a parent who has a child with a chromosomal abnormality I strongly recommend Dr. Mukherhee's exhaustive narrative. It provides tremendous background and a hope that perhaps chromosomes will be manipulable.

I was provided with an electronic copy in return for an honest review
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
charlie white
Any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Of chickens and eggs: The crucial driver of evolution is not nature's sense of purpose, but her sense of humor.
The author's previous book on cancer was very informative and useful to me. I expected him to do equally well on the gene. I was right, but I guess I took more from the cancer book, because I knew less about the subject.

He begins with Darwin and Mendel and how various people figured out over decades how to fill the gaps towards building the theory of evolution by natural selection.
From there we move on to the human genome project and stem cells and gene therapy, via various intermediate steps. Including eugenics, that shameful digression. The retelling of the discovery process helps our understanding, to some extent. For what I don't understand, I blame myself.

At some point, considerations of consequences enter the picture. What is the safety of genetic manipulations? Is it ethical to run unknown risks for either pure knowledge or potential commercial gain? What will a new ability to manipulate human heredity mean for future societies? Possible benefits seem obvious, but how will the dangers of totalitarian abuse be controlled?
The author stays away from ethical discussions of abortion. He also avoids the loaded issue of manipulated crops. I see that as a plus. I had enough of both discussions.

The book has a strong chapter about the meaning of race in relation to the genetics of Homo sapiens. We are given a refutation of the Bell Curve racism. Then follows an equally strong chapter on sex and identity. These chapters alone would make it worth one's time to read this book, even if some of the earlier technicalities are lost on one.

The conclusion on the future of gene therapy seems to be: we don't know what will happen next. Will the benefits outweigh the uncertainties and the risks? Are we going to help evolution towards the Übermensch? Will that be the end of us? Maybe the book was written too early? Shall we wait 10 years with the subject? To see what science will have figured out? We may have no choice.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hanindyo
Evolution by means of natural selection is the profoundest concept in biology; it may be the profoundest concept that humans are capable of. It can be expressed in a couple of sentences, and this has seduced many people to think that it is easy to understand.

This applies as well to those who pursue it as science or medicine as to those who disbelieve it because of religious bigotry.

But it is not easy to understand. We are now just 150 years from the germinal researches of Darwin and Mendel and capable — thanks to the research of a couple of yogurt scientists (yes, really) — of manufacturing genes to order with a high specificity.

Yet Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Gene” is both a cautionary and a triumphal story. Time after time, people have thought they knew enough to move from research to action. Some of these people were (and they are still around) ignoramuses who knew nothing about genetics; some were among the most advanced researchers and thinkers of their time.

(The following paragraph is relevant to Mukherjee’s book but is not explored in it. The antievolutionists of today who smear evolution as the progenitor of fascism or racial exterminationist ideologies are not only ignorant of the science of evolution, they turn history upside down. Evolutionary thinkers were (and some still are) guilty of racist and murderous thinking, but such thoughts did not have to await the “Origin of Species” to be thought. They were already around. The racists found evolutionary knowledge, especially as it stood in the late 19th century, handy to their purposes, but they had other impulses, primarily derived from Christianity. The word eugenics preceded the word genetics by 20 years.)

Natural selection requires something to select against, and it soon became clear that that something was physical. Darwin drove incorporeal vital forces out of biology, but for a long time that something was almost entirely unguessable. The word gene did not arrive for about 50 years and it remained an idea without a physical analogue for a long time. .

Not until the 1940s was it known for sure what genes were made of. After that huge conceptual breakthroughs came just about every decade — almost as if a kind of Moore’s Law (but slower paced) was acting in genetics.

The structure of the gene was revealed in ’53, the code was cracked less than 10 years later, and barely 10 years after that the prospect of genetic manipulation, as reality not dream, was so imminent that a famous conference on the ethics of knowing about the gene was called at Asilomar. There was “no comparable moment in scientific history,” Mukherjee says.

Mukherjee, a cancer researcher, is superb at explaining the concepts and experiments behind these breakthroughs (although as the reach into the gene becomes ever more detailed the explanations for lay readers become less so), but the best parts of the book are the ethical puzzles.

Mukherjee’s family included examples relevant to genetic research— a pair of identical twins, a cluster of apparently heritable madnesses — and it is here that his portrait of the gene becomes intimate.

His views are cosmopolitan, perhaps as a result of his family background, as refugees from what was then East Pakistan, then as migrants to America, and his own transoceanic education (Stanford, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford). Thus such insights as that the (apparent) power to direct genes led to concerns about biohazards among American researchers, moral hazards among students in Europe.

Soon enough ordinary people will have to come to terms with both. Mukherjee quotes the researcher Eric Topol: “Genetic tests are also moral tests. When you decide to test for ‘future risk,’ you are also, inevitably, asking yourself, what kind of future am I willing to risk?”

That, at least, is a more humane question than the assertion of the fascist eugenicists that “the future belongs to me.”
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
kapow
593 pages, way too long and complicated for me. (I have a master's degree.) The first part covering 1865 to 1970's pretty interesting--Darwin, Mendel, Watson and Crick. After that, too much work, too many details, I stopped. Okay if you are a bio-chemist.
(My favorite science book lately is Sapiens by Harari. I could not put that down.)
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
helen michelle
The book is written for the non-scientist with a good interest in, and thoughtful mind, into how science works. The history presented is laid out well, in a mostly linear path, connections made forward and back where warranted. I only wish the book proper had been constructed as well. I did not even lay it out open flat on a table for this to have happened. I am very disappointed. My review would have been 5 stars, ,,but for the spine cracking.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
peter gerdes
Genes and their study, have dominated scientific  research in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as we've become more able to manipulate genetic information. But man's fascination with the origins of human life, inheritance, disease, and other genetic questions is far older.  Aristotle believed that human traits were the result of nutrients from the father, that were given shape by the mother.  In the 17th century it was suggested that human sperm or ova contained tiny human beings, homunculi, which in turn contained their own tiny human beings, and so on. It wasn't until Mendel and Darwin that we began to understand how heredity actually works.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, a cancer researcher, has reason to want answers about genes.  Mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, gallops through his family.  It is well-known that the disease has a genetic component, but the exact nature of it remains elusive.  It's not a straightforward 1-to-1 relationship in the way that diseases such as Tay-Sachs or Huntington's Chorea are, but rather a complex web of mutations. In exploring the history and study of genetics, Mukherjee discusses his own family history as well as the events surrounding the discovery of the structure of DNA, early eugenics movements in the United States which found their ultimate expression on the Nazi holocaust, the mapping of the human genome, and the uncomfortable and often disastrous marriage of science and commerce which often rushes toward an end (and a payday) without full understanding of what could happen.

He recounts the death of Jesse Gelsinger, an 18 year old who suffered from a genetic disease of the liver which made him unable to metabolize ammonia, a by-product of the breakdown of protein. During the investigation of his death it was learned that both the university where the study was taking place, and the lead researcher had financial interests in the research. Money isn't the only ethical dilemma discussed here, and in fact, the field is filled with them. Mukherjee does an excellent job of discussing many, giving the reader a feel for the sheer complexity of what's happening in genetic science.

The narrative is a wonderful combination of science, history, and personal commentary, generally well-balanced the way good science writing should be.  The subject is one that concerns us all whether we realize it or not.  
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kerin
A book that deserves more than 5 stars! Author (and Oncologist) Siddhartha Mukherjee has written a superb book about a critically human subject. He takes the reader through the history, current state, and potential future of human genetic science and medicine. Now before you role your eyes, let me assure you that the book is supremely readable and enjoyable. He uses personal and poignant stories all along the way to illustrate and enlighten. There's no way to write the story without delving heavily into human biology, but Mukherjee does so clearly and a step at a time such that most readers will not loose their way.
Genetic science and medicine is on the cusp of major advances which could profoundly affect homo sapiens. Mukherjee carefully and thoughtfully points out the pros and cons of our advances and the intense ethical questions we face in the next few years. Its a book that every thoughtful person should read and think about.
Siddhartha Mukherjee won the pulitzer prize in 2011 for his book "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer". Its was also a superb read. In my opinion, "The Gene" may even be better. He is a gifted author and I will be following his writing in the coming years.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
farhad vafaey
“The GENE an intimate history”, is nothing more than a wide ranging historical look at all the attempts man has made to understand who he is and eventually whether he can know himself so well that he can control his very nature. Every possible topic that is even remotely connected to this quest is covered quite thoroughly. It includes the early philosophers, those who developed theories concerning the origin of babies. He includes the interesting story of Gregor Mendel who did ground breaking science on the inheritance of traits but was ignored for three decades. He covers Darwin and evolution and the theories of how characteristics of one generation were passed along to the next generation. He eventually gets to the discovery of DNA and genes and how life erupted on its own millions of years ago. Throughout the book he interjects with a personal story of his own family and whether the mental illness present there was an inherited malady or acquired. He finally covers the tumultuous present in which the technology exists to alter the human genome to combat desease but also if unchecked alter what it means to be human. The book is no less than a college course in the history of genetics. It is well written and presented as if by a favorite college professor. I recommend the book highly especially for those who want to learn more than they thought they could on a pivotal question in the quest to know who we are.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ethan duran
This book was not as good as The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. If you are to only read one book by this author (and that may be the case, since his books are a bit on the long side), then let that one be the one over this one. He is an oncologist by training, and he brought a certain perspective to that book that he could not bring to this one since he is not a geneticist by training.

There are all sorts of things here. (This is only a selected sampling.)

1. History of genetics (this includes both good--such as characterizations of the workhorses who made these things possible-- and bad-- such as the Nazi eugenics programs and their accompanying brutal vivisection).
2. Mendelian genetics
3. Molecular genetics
4. Medical/ genetic ethics
5. Embryology
6. Future directions in genetics

There is honestly so much, that there is no one who can fail to gain at least something from the effort that it will take to trudge through this long book.

Who might this book be for?

1. People who have already had a couple of semesters of genetics, and can understand some of the basics but might want to review what they have learned some number of years (decades) ago. (That would be the present writer.)
2. People who are the intelligent public and want a taste of Embryology.
3. People who might want a bit of the discussion of the ethical issues surrounding genetic modification. (At this point, I might add that the author's discussion was not all that great. But at least we know after reading this book that there are lots of civilizations--China-- that have no moral qualms about genetically engineering human beings. And that these questions will be have to be addressed sooner or later.)
4. People who have no background in genetics but want to get a little bit of basic training.
5. People who want to know some of the names and faces that were part of the process of getting us to where we are today. Everyone knows the names "Watson" and "Crick," but there were other people involved in solving the structure of crystal DNA. Rosalind Franklin's name might have gone down in posterity with them if she had not been such a virago.
6. People who believe that gender is "socially constructed" and that there is no genetic basis thereto. One of the many strong points to this book is found on p. 366. "These case reports put to rest the assumption, still unshakably prevalent in some circles that gender identity can be created or programmed entirely, or even substantially, by training, suggestion, behavioral enforcement, social performance, or cultural interventions. It is now clear that genes are vastly more influential than virtually any other force in shaping sex identity and gender identity."

If you are looking for honest discussions of human biodiversity, you *will not* (!) find them in this book. For that, try something like:

1. The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
2. [[ASIN:0143127160 A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History


The book is complete with a glossary and several hundred (I estimate about 653) references. There is also a timeline map of the history of genetics. This book is very well thought out, and a lot of the author's life went into it.

Verdict: Recommended, but not for people who are interested in an honest discussion of human biodiversity.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
azita rassi
This starts out with a warning – genes are dangerous to play with! At the end of the prologue he lumps genes with atoms and bytes as things that could destroy mankind, or give him Godlike powers. Fulfilling the prophesy  “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5 To be sure, we are a long way from Godhood, but we are getting closer all the time.
This is a survey of how we came to know what we know and do not know about genes and genetics. What we do not know is what genes make. We can see what they should be making, proteins, enzymes, etc., but that does not always tell us what those chemicals do. There is a lot of coordination among the genes so that a couple, or maybe a dozen, will work together for a result, like eye color, or height. The most interesting part of this book is the description of the experiments that resulted in learning something, like Fr. Mendel's (I am not sure of how to address him – Father or Brother or what, so my best guess) work with peas – intricate, labor intensive, exacting. Same with Prof. Morgan and his fruit flies. They could not have been easy to analyze, and how would you make sure you did not get the same fly twice or three times?
There comes a point later in the book where he describes finding the gene for Huntington's Disease where I just glossed over the details. I am not a student or researcher, so knowing very well how it was done is not so important, just that it worked. It is also here where he starts to explain that for all they know, they do not know how to use that knowledge for the betterment of mankind. The be all to end all is they are accumulating knowledge, slowly, so maybe someday....
It is interesting to note that in book he explains that they have found that a single gene that controls the form of man, without it functioning, the person forms as a woman. This kid of puts a kink in the bathroom issues for Transgender folks.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
grahm eberhardt
Read this hoping to find out basic info such as 1) how many DNA molecules in a gene? 2) how many genes in a chromosome? 3) do non-humans have chromosomes?, 4) etc. Went through this book at 1.5 speed on Audible while driving and jogging - so 19 hours was compressed a bit. The book is encyclopedic and SM may have given the stats, but did not catch them. Perhaps a glossary might have helped. Will check Google for the basic "explain to me like I am five" facts still sought. Did learn that the "human genome" is a bit of a misnomer, since each individual has a different genome. What was sequenced by Ventner and the NIH was apparently 3-5 individuals' genomes (with say 3 billion base pairs on the typical human genome). Learned that there are some 23,000 human genes on 46 chromosomes. Just a flood of interesting new vocabulary and facts. Like that SM starts at the beginning (say, Aristotle) and works his way to the present, as he did for the Emperor of All Maladies. Like that SM spends ample time discussing ethical issues that have arisen and remain central to any adequate discussion of genetics. Like that SM discusses how genetics relating to mental health is a hot topic within his own family group. Also helpful with the book might be a timeline, a list of who is (and who was) who, and a list of key documents relating to each chapter. Seems like there is not much in the field of genetics that is important that was not discussed in the book. His command of the English language is superb - text quality is comparable to text in a brief written for the US Supreme Court by the US Solicitor General's Office. Sorry to say not many non-fictions about science are this comprehensive and readable. Thanks to SM for spending the time to spell out so much about what one might want to know about genetics and evolution. .
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
brook
Every so often you'll read something about how genome sequencing has gotten cheaper, or how genetic engineering has led to a breakthrough in certain agricultural products. But then you'll think to yourself: "The Human Genome Project" was done at least a decade ago. How come we haven't gotten anything interesting out of it? Has there really been zero progress? Where are the gene-engineered babies and super-athletes that's going to make doping obsolete?

The Gene: An Intimate History goes a long way towards explaining what's going on in the field. It's biggest problem is that it's a layman's book. So in addition to having to suffer through the personal stories of the author and his family (yes, it's relevant, and if you're an English major you might find it interesting as it adds personal color, but I just rolled my eyes and skimmed it as quickly as I could), you have to suffer through the pedantic explanation of the discovery of genes through Darwin, Mendel, and various other folks like Galton. There's also significant coverage of the eugenics movement and the horrors of world war 2. If you're a reasonably well-read engineer this is all old hat and you can zip through as quickly as you can read.

The story gets interesting only when you get to Watson, Crick, Wilkins and Franklin. From then on, the exposition gets far more interesting as we start to explore the current knowledge about DNA, it's relationship to RNA, the relationship to epigenetic markers (which I didn't realize were real markers with chemical traces) and why progress in gene-engineering has been so slow.

Part of the problem is that the number of genes in the human genome is surprisingly small (19,000-20,000). You might think that this is good news, as that means that there are fewer genes to study and make sense of. That's not correct. Genes in the DNA are activated and de-activated as needed, and used to generate proteins. The problem with a much smaller than expected set of genes is that it means that the genes are probably used in multiple places in surprising ways with complex interaction between them. In other words, you'd much rather read 100,000 lines of well-structured code than 20,000 lines of spaghetti code, some of which modifies itself (or is used to generate code that then generates more code!). For instance, the human immune system has to have generic approaches to creating and reacting to anti-bodies, since at the start it cannot know which types of viruses or bacterial infection it has to respond to.

The other problem is that gene expression is not 100% all the time. The biological term for this is "penetrance." In other words, if a gene's presence causes a disease only 50% of the time, it's not enough to detect for the presence or absence of the gene. You also have to understand the environmental triggers that cause the disease in the presence of the gene. That's a problem even for single-gene diseases where a distinct gene can be tracked down that causes say, Huntington's disease, or certain forms of breast cancer. It's an even bigger problem for multi-variate factors like intelligence, where multiple genes from all over the genome might contribute. In other words, unlike genes for hair color and eye color, most genetic determinants of attributes we care about cannot be tracked down to a single gene, which makes everything much harder to develop.

Then there's the editing problem. Until relatively recently, there's been no easy ways to edit a gene sequence. So even if you did know the changes you want to make to a genome, you'd have no way to edit precisely the change you wanted to make. The barrier to this is slowly falling as new techniques are developed, but even with the new techniques the delivery mechanism to an adult human is full of danger: previous gene therapies have been tried which have killed the patient.

Finally, there's no complete model of the human genome as it interacts with the environment. This is a severe problem, so editing a gene could have unintended side effects and consequences. It boggles my mind that there isn't a project to provide a computer model of the human genome from the DNA up. You would want there to be a "virtual human" the way there's a "virtual machine" that lets you experiment when you build a new operating system or to see the changes you make. (Or at least, maybe there is such a project but the author of the book didn't see fit to mention it) Until that kind of technology is available to at least predict what your changes are going to end up doing, gene engineering seems kinda dangerous, like writing code on a machine with no process isolation --- any mistake could end up killing the patient!

All in all, this was a decently comprehensive book, and does a great job of explaining why we don't have super-intelligent engineered babies or super-athletes that don't need doping to win. Recommended.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
nferrone
Too triumphalist, too anachronistic, too reductionist, too long. The author should have studied the history of genetics a lot more carefully before writing this book. He should have also been more careful in explaining the complexities of development rather than saying that there is a single gene that determines sex. Genes are important, but so are several other factors, but the author insists on prioritising them.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
celina aghabekian
'The Gene' is a challenging book as I do not have a microbiology, medical or scientific background. Nonetheless, it is obvious this
is an important area of discovery. The history going back to the Greeks, to Mendel and to the discovery of the double helix by
Crook, Watson, Franklin and Wilkins was enlightening. Some reviewers have noted some of the errors in the book regarding
Darwin and physics. Because of the wide ranging subject it was read twice. Previously, I read Dr. Mukherjee's book on cancer history,
"Emperor of All Maladies" which is easier to absorb. Some of the pages were 'dry', but others as the details of CRISPR cas9
were fascinating. There are other books on this wide ranging subject and this book is a good analysis of the current state
of the genome. Many chapters and verses will be forthcoming as new discoveries are made.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tracy albers
Mukherjee is a cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center, a published author, and is very concerned about heredity since mental illness runs in his family. He tells a very interesting tale, giving historical evolution of ideas, and experiments done concerning heredity and the gene. He mixes in national eugenics experiments gone wrong, and his family’s challenges with mental illness. Considerable time is spent exploring where we may be going using new techniques and ideas, and modifying the human genome. The book is well organized with a glossary, and huge selection of suggestions for further reading.

He starts with the Greek’s ideas about heredity and proceeds to modern ideas. Darwin successfully connected the ideas of animals and plants changing over time. During this period the available time for species to change was increasing from thousands to billions of years, due to the study of fossil records. Darwin also knew that animals and plants could be bred for special traits. He saw that the environment can change and in turn put pressure on species to change. Some of the changes are helpful some are not, this leads to the survival of the fittest to adapt to the change in the environment.

How did the sperm and egg produce these changes? Darwin first considered it to be simple mixing. This didn’t explain why a new trait wouldn’t be diluted to insignificance in a few generations. He was an excellent observer but wasn’t good at designing careful well thought out experiments.

Mendel got his education through his monastery and trained to be a teacher. He studied chemistry and physics in addition to biology and became comfortable and expert in the exacting laboratory methods of these sciences. His work with pea plants was well thought out, and meticulously carried out. By creating hybrids and keeping meticulous records he was able to discern that some genes could be dominant and overshadow recessive genes. The recessive genes only worked when paired, only one dominant gene was needed to overwhelm the recessive gene. Unfortunately his work was not easy to understand and was essentially ignored.

Darwin and many others worked on the mechanism of heredity. Hugo de Vries and William Bateson took up Mendel’s ideas experimentally and made them more understandable and available to public. The ideas of genes and genetics brought with them the possibility of controlling traits of future populations. Francis Galton did a lot of experiments measuring physical traits of local populations. He came up with the interesting fact that most traits form a normal bell curve. Further he found that if two tall parents had a number of offspring some would be taller some would be shorter than their parents, but the average height of the offspring would be less than the average height of the parents. This occurred for all the traits he measured and is called the regression to the mean. This regression to the mean occurs in many places including investments in stocks. He also became a founder of the eugenics movement believing that mankind could be improved by encouraging mating of superiors and prevention of breeding of inferiors. Of course many of our great geniuses like Isaac Newton and Darwin, were fairly frail and sickly, but we're still able to use their particular genius very successfully. It is hard to define and balance traits.

A mathematician Ronald Fisher showed that the smooth bell shaped curves could be generated if measured traits depended on three, five or more genes. The more genes, the more permutations that result in a broader array of possibilities of the trait. Another scientist, Fredrick Griffith showed that using radiation could greatly increase the rate of mutation. Herman Muller used flies to study heredity and the much more rapid reproduction rate allowed more results to be compared. He began to understand that the attempt to breed better humans was going to be very difficult.

The Nazi’s started with a program to neuter undesirables. A married couple who were extreme Nazis gave birth to a badly malformed baby and suggested the he be killed to save the Reich his additional cost. Hitler approved and the lists of undesirables was easy to grow.

The Soviet Union went in a different direction with Trofim Lysenko who believed he could create hybrid food crops that would be productive under adverse conditions. He thought by subjecting wheat to extremes of cold and drought he would create crops that would withstand the harsh conditions in Siberia. The Soviets generalized this idea to retraining people - less extreme than the Nazi methods.

Oswald Avery did extensive experimental work and showed that DNA was likely the home of the gene, and responsible for hereditary traits. Edwin Schrodinger wrote a book ‘What is life’ that discussed the properties necessary for a molecule to accomplish what we know happens in hereditary traits. His description fit DNA molecules amazingly well and excited scientists of several generations.

Attention began to focus on DNA structure with various teams competing. Linus Pauling was well on his way with the description of the alpha helix. Teams in England were also working on the problem with people like Maurice Wilkins, a good theoretician, and Rosalind Franklin a superb experimentalist had a good approach, but they couldn't get along and work together. The odd couple of Watson, a trained ornithologist, and Crick, a physicist, were very interested in the structure of DNA, but had virtually no background. They did have a great deal of directed interest and energy. Then for some unknown reason Pauling published a three strand DNA helix that was obviously wrong. In a complicated dance Watson and Crick managed to get hold of much of Franklin’s experimental work that was the best in the world. The author doesn't note they also had additional information on Pauling’s work getting it from Pauling’s son Peter who was part of their group. They did get the structure of DNA and the Nobel Prize. They had an enjoyable time developing their ideas at the local pub.

The gene was thought to encode information to build a protein and the protein gives rise to a trait of the organism. This would prove to be far too simple. Watson strongly suggested that another intermediate (RNA) must exist to build a protein. Ongoing research is showing parts of DNA turn genes on and off and modulate their behavior in many ways.

It was found that a combination of three bases of DNA would specify or code one amino acid in a protein. DNA builds RNA, that builds proteins, that enables structure and function in an organism. The process can also be recursive in that DNA encodes a protein that enables DNA to replicate. DNA replication can also be regulated or turned on and off by other signals such as the nutritional status of a cell. If a regulator goes rogue the cell replicates continuously, the cell has cancer. Genes can regulate, replicate, recombine, and repair DNA.

DNA is a chemically simple molecule made up of only four biochemical bases. Triplet sequences of three bases, a codon, provide directions to a cell to make a given amino acid. This direction or translation is accomplished by the ribosome, this links amino acids in an order specified by mRNA, using transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules to transport amino acids and to read the mRNA codon made up of three bases at a time. The amino acids combine to form very complicated proteins that perform most of the functions in the cell. The order of the bases in threes is the entire genetic code safely stored in the stable DNA structure.

Sanger cleverly deduced the structure of insulin and then proceeded to tackle DNA. He and others found long sequences of bases that didn't encode proteins. The exon module, that included instructions to make a protein, was part of a gene separated by Intron modules that seem to contain instructions for using the exons. This gave the potential of making many combinations from a single gene. The other material appears to control and regulate the function of proteins. The original designation of this material as junk DNA was premature.

Using reverse transcriptase RNA in a cell could be used as a template to build its corresponding gene. Libraries for each type of cell could be developed. Gene cloning and gene sequencing technology opened many research doors. Scientists and entrepreneurs started seeing commercial possibilities and companies like Genentech were formed and patents granted. Genentech used recombinant DNA to make insulin and got a patent on all genetically modified microorganisms. This was a change in direction from trying to isolate a medicine from a complex mix of natural products to building a complex molecule step by step.

Molecular biologists made a number of clever breakthroughs in creating tools to study the genome. They even agreed to self regulate research to minimize life threatening breakthroughs and products. They found cancer for instance was a result of heredity, evolution, environment, and chance mixed together. Cancer and mental illness are examples of diseases that are caused by a number of widely spread genes.

It began to make sense to map the entire human genome using the polymerase chain reaction, PCR. Mathematical techniques developed by Eric Lander and improved automated machines from Leroy Hood allowed the consideration of the mapping. At this time a race developed between two groups one lead by Francis Collins funded by the NIH and the second headed by Craig Venter heading a private group TIGR. Venter used a new method blasting the DNA sample into fragments then using algorithms developed by a team of top mathematicians to put the pieces back together and find the genome. Collins used a more standard step-by-step, safer, slower, and get everything method.

As research continued the question came up exactly what is a gene? I remember talking with Sidney Bremmer, shortly before he got his Nobel prize, after one of his lectures. One of the topics was how many genes are in the human genome? Sydney guessed about 100,000. Eric Lander came up said that in his lab they were using at least eight different definitions for the gene and the number of genes depended on the definitions being used. Craig Venter then joined the discussion and guessed it was probably a smaller number of genes. He also mentioned that doing a small genome that took his research group 10 years to complete a few years ago could now be done in about six seconds.

It appears that the female mitochondria genome is considered unchanging over the last 200,000 years and this is used to determine that we are all descended from a female in Africa. It is interesting that the amount of genetic diversity among individuals of a given race is much greater than the diversity between races. An individual's racial ancestry predicts little about the person’s genome. The author spends considerable time debunking the idea that differences in various types of IQ between the races or even individuals are meaningful. On the other hand he seems to find natural selection working to give black distance runners and sprinters a great physical advantage quite possible. He feels that sexual orientation is likely to be due to genes that modulate and integrate inputs from the environment. A large study of twins raised apart compared correlations assuming all differences of a given trait were due to nurture. IQ has a 0.70 correlation, but for a genetic illness type 1 diabetes, only 0.35. Many social and political attitudes were almost identical for twins raised under very different conditions. It should be noted that attempts to replicate many of these studies have generally failed so there is still considerable question for given traits of how much is nature or nurture.

It doesn’t appear that environmental change can permanently change genes- this takes a mutation in the DNA. If the mutation is successful then the change in the genes competes successfully and is kept. Epigenetic changes are changes in genes due to environmental factors. As an example adding or deleting methyl groups can turn off a gene. Four genes that were found to reverse cell aging are also involved in cancer. It is much easier to associate a gene with a trait than to quantify the exact effect especially taking into account other genes that affect the trait. Sometimes a small amount of a missing protein has a large effect. For instance for hemophilia a 5% replacement of the missing protein restores 90% of the ability to clot.

Doudna and Charpentier discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 technique of cutting out a very specific portion of DNA and replacing it with a very specific substitute. This made it possible to have directed, efficient, and sequence specific modification of the genome. It is rather clever in that they used a technique developed by bacteria to protect themselves from invading viruses. They found they could replace the target sequence of DNA and also replace the substitute sequence originally in the bacteria, they have the bacteria apparatus do the work of replacing part of the DNA. This is a very powerful technique with many implications for the future.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ashley roach
The Gene: an intimate history, by Siddharha Mukherjee is a sprawling historical review of genetics. Beginning with antiquity, Pythagoras in 530BC believed that the sperm delivered the information and the egg provided the nature; Aristotle believed that both female and male transmitted a message to offspring. Darwin's work is described and his ignorance of heredity so he did not understand or provide a mechanism of passing on the variations which guided natural selection, Gregor Mendel, the first giant of genetic science studied pea plants Which revealed the laws of dominant and recessive inheritance. Watson and cricks classic discovery of the structure of DNA as the material substance of the gene along with many experiments in genetics leading up to identifying DNA as the heritary material. Skip to the year 2000 and the human genome project identifies all of the genes in the 23 pairs of chromosomes in sequential order, identifying 22,000 human genes with 3 billion base pairs and showing that only 2% of the human genome is active and that the human genome contains a significant amount of viral DNA . We have 98% of our genome in common with the great apes although they have 24 chromosome pairs, not 23 pairs like us.
Other subjects covered include:
** how Francis Galton began the eugenics movements and coined "nature versus nature"
It is horrifying reading about the Carrie buck sterilization and how no less than the judge Oliver Wendell Holmes was the person who remarked " 3 generations of imbeciles is enough"
**thomas hunt Morgan furthered the science of genetics by working on fruit flies in his famous fly room at Columbia. He discovered linkage and crossing over(now called recombination). Herman muller discovered that x-rays caused mutation in these flies.
** there is a section on gender and sex. Is homosexuality genetic, environmental or both. There is a fascinating account of phenotypic females who are found to have the "xy" (male) genotype. The author explains why the male "y" chromosome is so small and forecasts that it may disappear entirely in the future. The mitochondria with the viral genome and how it is passed down exclusively in females is discussed.
** genetic diseases and specific examples of gene therapy and the outcomes, some truly horrifying and sad.
**cancer is described for the first time as the ultimate disease of malfunctioning gene. In 1985 korsmeyer found that the BCL2 mutation blocks cell death and results in pathological cells unable to die, the cancer cell.
** the first purification of synthetic insulin by Banting and Best in 1920 and the protein sequence of insulin by Frederick Sanger resulting in the nobel prize in 1958.
**the fascinating subject of genetic paleontology showing that modern humans are 200,000 years old originating exclusively from sub Saharan Africa.
In summary this book is extremely complete, reviewing virtually all areas of genetics old and new and bazaar. No science knowledge is necessary however like all areas of knowledge the reading becomes even more interesting when building on a preexisting foundation and will certainly broaden and deepen your understanding. I think everyone should read this book. It brings the reader up to date on the subject and finally this area is critically important, topical and political ( stem cell research which is covered), all sure to greatly influence the future of health care in terms of genetic diseases, fertility, gender issues, genetic therapy and more.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bridget coyle
I had my mind blown by Mukherjee's deft use of personal history, cultural history, and ability to explain technical scientific details to laypeople without boring us senseless in his oncology masterpiece, The Emperor of All Maladies.

He does it again, here, with The Gene. Embedding the history-- both scientific and cultural-- of human involvement with genetics within his own familial history of mental disease, Mukherjee portrays a powerful, troubling, thought-provoking strain of human science-- our quest to understand why we are who we are as well as the ethical/moral pitfalls of any attempt to control that.

Through Mendel and Darwin, traveling on to Eugenics both in the US and Nazi, then the moral trajectory of stem cell research and the politically influenced Human Genome Project, and also touching on the highly publicized death of a first recipient of gene therapy, Mukherjee ends with implications about our current technological ability to use human embryonic cells and insert genetic changes via CRISPR technology that can affect the germ line (ability to pass on changes via egg and sperm cells to the next generation).

By the end of reading this book, I had so many sticky notes on the "good parts" that it was ridiculous, and all of those were a personal lens focused on the how this book framed the development of genetics in a way that either made lots of sense to me or made me rethink certain assumptions.

First, the way that "mutants" are defined. He reminds us that the opposite of "mutant" isn't "normal", but 'wild strain.' This has implications on our definitions of normal and how evolution is perceived. In talking about how gross-beaked variants of Galapagos finches survived famine and then "..a new species of finch began to appear. The freak became the norm. As new Malthusian limits were imposed-- diseases, famines, parasites-- new breeds gained a stronghold, and the population shifted again. Freaks became norms, and norms became extinct. Monster by monster, evolution advanced."

This theme that what to our current sensibilities might seem monstrous, is truly just a biased perception that may not fully appreciate how a mutant might better fit an environment is a theme throughout the book, culminating in implications for genetic therapy treatments for mental and physical diseases. He constantly underlines that "It is not mutation that ultimately causes disease, but mismatch" where the mismatch is in specific disabilities caused by an incongruity between an individual's specific genetic makeup and his or her current environment. Some poignant implications for parents who can envision themselves deciding on abortion of a genetic survey of their fetus resulted in a diagnosis for risk of schizophrenia, autism, hemophilia, and Down's syndrome.

And Mukherjee does all this with a tender, compassionate touch. He references King Lear, Sanskrit poetry, and other literary/cultural images to help us humanize the science. And while there was a bit of needless repetition of scientific concepts at times, I forgave that in the face of the excellent way he can take complex, lengthy history and distill it into fundamental questions and personal anecdotes of what it means to be human. Bravo.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
glynn
"God does not play dice" is a famous quote by Albert Einstein about quantum physics. One of the lessons from this masterful book is how much randomness there is in genetics and in the development of an organism from conception to birth, and even beyond. The dice are rolling regardless of reason, and the author addresses the mechanisms that influence development beyond a rigidly executed procedure, and how biological processes may have evolved this way for better or worse. His comment about human sexual reproduction being relatively inefficient and risky, and more of a sexual recombination to improve diversity resonated sharply.

For example, how is it that identical twins end up biologically different, and why do diseases associated with one or more genes actually occur in carriers and sometimes not? There was much new for me to learn about proteins and their critical participation. Nature vs. nuture should be treated far more as nature and nuture working together or against each other.

As with the author's cancer book, historical narratives beginning with Darwin and Mendel and key individuals in more recent decades are woven in with the science. Almost as a sidebar, a look at epigenetics and how "runtime" genome modifications could be transmitted to offspring was very strong, and the author touched on some more current topics such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and editing the genome via CRISPR. Very time-sensitive material, of course.

4.5 stars. I backed off from five despite its brilliance because some chapters felt slightly off and had a bit too much editorializing for my taste.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
natalie gaskarth
This is a very knowledgeable, enjoyable and entertaining history of genetics. Major criticisms have mostly been on unsettled scientific issues. But his take on nature versus nurture is reminiscent of making a sharp distinction of mind versus brain. Assuming that nature and nurture is a straightforward or fundamentally useful distinction has led the majority of geneticists into errors which blossom and multiply. For example, the author is very excited and informed about twins studies, assuming that Nurture begins when adoptive parents take over the infant. This ignores three periods of nurture. Taking just one, gestation, in which for example the developing child learns the intonation pattern of it's mother's language(!), it's clear that twins "separated at birth" does not introduce them to Nurture for the first time, nor that what is developed in the womb is trivial or not differentiating. Now add the period before gestation and the period after birth.
As for separated identical twins using the same hair coloring, playing the same music, wearing the same hat, etc., no one has any sort of scientific explanation for this, or even a certainty that there is one. (Strictly for entertainment, three partial ones spring to mind for some of these: the twins know they are in the study; probabilities of unusual concurrences in large studies; and the Polynesions delight and activities in finding that Margaret Meade was titillated by what she the reported as Free Love.). More broadly, no one knows what, if anything in particular, sentiment, preference, intelligence, ... are. So excitedly attributing them to genetics is not meaningful.

Another fundamental error is to remark on the powerful influence of vanity and greed on the speed of development of genetics without serious reflection on their effects. His reflections are more apologia than long range perceptive. Effects on the focus, public understanding, breadth, even honesty of any science. The source, level, and targets of funding for a science have profound, often long-term, effects on their course and breadth of results. Nature bats last but History goes before.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
tom hajek
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee is a magnificently well-researched, articulate history of man kind's discovery and exploration of genetics. From the first steps taken by Mendel to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany in the name of genetic research to modern day gene splicing and China's current efforts to modify human embryos, the world of genetic research has spanned centuries while mesmerizing and terrifying all at the same time.

This book is, in essence, a text book on the science and history of genetic science. Compared to most texts, this account is written in a conversationalist tone that allows the every-day reader to appreciate and understand the complexities and concepts behind genetics. I found this book to be incredibly well written, the explanations clear, the progression of topics logical, and the voice engaging.

By the end of The Gene my personal thoughts and opinions on the field of genetics were certainly changed. This book does not seek to adapt anyone's opinion or approach to genetics but it does thoroughly educate you on the field in the most intimate of ways; thus, it is difficult to read from the first to the last page without having a more thorough and complete understanding of genetics and a better basis for ones own opinion.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brandy frasier
I loved this book. It provides a very interesting and informative history of genetic research describing how many of the contributors hypothesized what was occurring biologically and the subsequent discoveries validating those hypotheses. I was performing several of the experiments discussed in the book involving fruit flies in the 1970s not realizing that much of what I was doing during my college years coincided with much of what was happening in the field. I feel much more informed of how genes work after reading this truly excellent book. I highly recommend it for anyone that has even a passing interest in biology and/or genetics. You won't be disappointed.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nanou
The Gene, an intimate history by Siddhartha Mukherjee, Reviewed by Jerry Woolpy

This a comprehensive history of genetics from the ancients to the problematic present with its frightening capacity to redesign the human genome. Mukherjee delves into most of the important discoveries in more depth and detail than any previous comprehensive history. I wish I had it for the many years I taught the genetics required of all biology majors. Until the end when it gets truly scary about the new eugenics, it was a total pleasure. It is readable for any science buff and a must for biologists. Careful readers of all types would enjoy much of it if they are willing to ignore some of the detail. Anyone interested in the ethical issues we are about to face as a society should read at least parts 4-6 and keep in mind: it’s not science fiction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kartik
I could not put The Emperor of All Maladies down, simply raced through it asap. This book about genetics is similar in many ways (all sorts of tangents, case histories, research and researchers, super specific information, things that we've thought wrong) but not quite as good as the author's first book. I appreciated the family connection to mental illness about which he weaves through the book, but it was just very good to me. If I had to choose to read just one, TAoAM would be my pick, hands down.

Also good: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Double Helix by James Watson and 26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie's Columbia River Songs and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest by Greg Vandy and Daniel Person.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
juan carlos
This is a fascinating look at the history of genes and genetic research and a discussion of the ethical and moral implications of genetic manipulation. Starting with Mendel and through Watson and Crick this is just mind blowing stuff. Although many of the scientific details were beyond me it did not detract from the book. I was still able to get the gist of the science. Some of the writing is beautiful and poetic and if you are at all interested in the future of humanness and how the human genome came about read this book. You will learn about things you didn't know about nor could imagine.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jamierisa
This book is on many publications' and reviewers' top ten lists for 2016, including Bill Gates, who categorized it as a guide to genetic history for laymen. If so, it seems Mr. Gates must be hanging out with really smart laymen.

I took this book on because of the rave reviews and despite my lack of familiarity with the field. I did get lost in some parts, but for the most part the book clearly describes the events and controversies in genetic research. The author also brings home the importance of the research with his re telling of his history of his family's struggles with mental illness.

Highly recommended, but that does not mean it is easy reading.

I
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
marlene
The Gene is a bit overwhelming. There is so much information that it is hard to take it all in and I found my mind wandering a bit as the data floated by. When I was able to be a better, more mature reader and focus, I found the history and research fascinating. I especially liked the beginnings of the book when Siddhartha discussed the many ancient theories of conception/fetus development. Some pretty crazy assumptions... The author does a great job of progressing along a path of discovery and knowledge from these very early days to the current day. There is no doubt that The Gene is an excellent endeavor. I just wasn't always up to the task of processing it all.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kim boykin
This is a superb review of the history of genetics. It is also an excellent insight into how human frailty influences scientific research, and into the consequences of human politics. There is also some speculation as to the implications of the available technology on the human race. If you would like to see some more speculation on this subject in a science fiction format, I would highly recommend Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. Space opera, but it explores in depth the consequences of various reproductive technologies.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dmitri
Incredibly clear writing about a subject that would be beyond the reach of many lay readers. Mukherjee knows his subject inside-out and is able to present it in a way that brings the complexity to the reader while still offering understanding, This is the history of DNA and the human genome.laid out for all to appreciate. We are clearly on the brink of a revolution - both good and bad - and the author presents the whole story. I can only offer my sincere thanks for allowing me to see how this field developed, what its current state is and where it's heading. Every single step is fascinating, almost beyond belief.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gesti
This is a challenging read, but the time spent to read--and re-read passages--is well worth it. Dr. Mukherjee's talent as a writer, as well as being the consummate scientist, blends to give the lay reader a substantial understanding of the wonders of our genetic makeup and its impact on our biology. As with "The Emperor of All Maladies" this volume is a must read for all of us concerned about the disease threats we face. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in understanding the newest bio-tech advances being made at an ever increasing pace.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jennifer van alstyne
I joined a long queue at my public library to borrow the audiobook version of "The Gene." This thoroughly researched and thought-provoking history, which goes from Aristotle to the present, was well worth the wait. Though at times it reads like a medical textbook, there is plenty of color and human interest to hold the attention of the lay reader. We are left marveling at how well we function in spite of genetic predispositions, and what undiscovered evil lurks within. I would have appreciated less technical jargon -- or reiterated definitions of essential terminology. In the audio version, one tends to notice multisyllable pileup that the eye might skip over in print.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ruthie
A monumental work that describes in understandable prose the concept of a message container and then the discovery of the various parts of DNA, chromosomes and genes. I still am amazed how people were able to untangle the web and am amazed how some knowledge reveals all that we do not know. With anecdotal inserts and famous gene studies, even the layman, like myself, can get an appreciation of how complex simplicity can be.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
martha boyle
Just started reading this book and I am finding it very interesting and well written. However, I am stumped on the page where Mukherjee states "Suppose a trait is controlled by 3 genes. With just three genes in question, there would be six alleles or gene variants in total—three from the mother and three from the father. Simple combinatorial mathematics yielded twenty-seven unique combinations of these six gene variants. And if each combination generated a unique effect on height, Fisher found, the result smoothened out." Knowing a little mathematics but not much heredity I can't figure out how he got the answer of 27, can anyone explain, please? I can't move on without knowing this.
The page referred to is Chapter 9, location 1841 on my IPad's Kindle app.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
chandrani
This book is extremely important. The field of genetics has boomed and continues to forge ahead in swift fashion. That being said, how many of us who haven’t studied this particular field, at least to some degree, can say that we understand what the hell is going on and what this means for us as a society? In a day and age when scientific advancements and understanding feel so far removed from our lives, it can become easy to forget just how much these things affect our identities and us. This book draws the readers back into the circle of understanding and reflection.

Mukherjee does a great job of synthesizing the somewhat brief but jam-packed history and accomplishments (both good and bad) of genetics and the study of heredity using his own academic background and knack for literary storytelling. This not only makes the book approachable but also pulls the reader in, inviting them to join the conversation and look at how genetics and society intersect in countless ways that affect us all. Although there is much still left unsaid (and how could there not be without making the book the length of a dictionary?), The Gene summarizes and introduces the science and history on where we came from, what we are made of, and where we’re going as advancements in knowledge and understanding in this field happen everyday. The history he presents is filled with narratives and stories of hard work, good and bad decisions, human greed, human promise and ambition, advancements and setbacks, the dangers and the necessity of knowledge in a modern world, and pretty much everything else essential to a good story.

By continuing a theme of caution and reflection throughout the book, interspersed with how heredity has affected him and his familial relationships as well, Mukherjee does a good job of showing us the promise that genetics and science holds for our future, while helping us understand the complexity of this promise and the care we must take with information that could alter what it means to be human. For that reason and purpose, I would recommend a read by any and all with an interest in further understanding the most basic and fundamental building blocks of life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
azza yusuf
Siddhartha Mukherjee’s, The Gene An Intimate History, takes the reader on a journey through history documenting significant events that allowed scientists to understand the gene or “the unit of heredity.” Throughout this journey, Mukherjee notes the substantial breakthroughs that happened by consistent repetition of experiments and others by sheer luck.

Mukherjee begins his story with what is believed to be the first time the human race first sparked interest of genes. The word “gene” was still not coined at this time but there was speculation from famous philosophers Aristotle and Pythagoras that this information from parents is somehow transferred to their offspring’s. This is idea was kept relatively quiet for many years until the likes of Mendel, Darwin, and other scientists curiosity sparked a race to determine what this mysterious “unit of heredity” was.

Following Mendel and Darwin, the discovery of the gene has lead to the many highs in science, but has also experienced the many lows and dark points of such a significant breakthrough. Mukherjee blends the rich history of the world with a discovery that has forever changed science. His analysis of American eugenics, Nazi Germany, to present day CRISPR leaves the reader amazed by how such a small molecule inside our body could prompt such defining moments in history.

Mukherjee’s careful use of literature and word choice will sometimes leave you confused and frustrated, but his simplicity with explaining concepts and detailedness will leave you wanting to continue on this journey. Who knew studying something as small as a pea could be the beginning of something so big in history?
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