2021 new arrival THE wholesale GENE: popular An Intimate History online sale

2021 new arrival THE wholesale GENE: popular An Intimate History online sale

2021 new arrival THE wholesale GENE: popular An Intimate History online sale
2021 new arrival THE wholesale GENE: popular An Intimate History online sale__below

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The #1 NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
The basis for the PBS Ken Burns Documentary The Gene: An Intimate History

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

"Sid Mukherjee has the uncanny ability to bring together science, history, and the future in a way that is understandable and riveting, guiding us through both time and the mystery of life itself." –Ken Burns

“Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee dazzled readers with his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies in 2010. That achievement was evidently just a warm-up for his virtuoso performance in The Gene: An Intimate History, in which he braids science, history, and memoir into an epic with all the range and biblical thunder of Paradise Lost” ( The New York Times). In this biography Mukherjee brings to life the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.

“Mukherjee expresses abstract intellectual ideas through emotional stories…[and] swaddles his medical rigor with rhapsodic tenderness, surprising vulnerability, and occasional flashes of pure poetry” ( The Washington Post). Throughout, the story of Mukherjee’s own family—with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness—reminds us of the questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In riveting and dramatic prose, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation—from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Morgan to Crick, Watson and Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome.

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

Amazon.com Review

In 2010, Siddhartha Mukherjee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Emperor of All Maladies, a “biography” of cancer. Here, he follows up with a biography of the gene—and The Gene is just as informative, wise, and well-written as that first book. Mukherjee opens with a survey of how the gene first came to be conceptualized and understood, taking us through the thoughts of Aristotle, Darwin, Mendel, Thomas Morgan, and others; he finishes the section with a look at the case of Carrie Buck (to whom the book is dedicated), who eventually was sterilized in 1927 in a famous American eugenics case. Carrie Buck’s sterilization comes as a warning that informs the rest of the book. This is what can happen when we start tinkering with this most personal science and misunderstand the ethical implications of those tinkerings. Through the rest of The Gene, Mukherjee clearly and skillfully illustrates how the science has grown so much more advanced and complicated since the 1920s—we are developing the capacity to directly manipulate the human genome—and how the ethical questions have also grown much more complicated. We could ask for no wiser, more fascinating and talented writer to guide us into the future of our human heredity than Siddhartha Mukherjee. --Chris Schluep

Review

"This is perhaps the greatest detective story ever told—a millennia-long search, led by a thousand explorers, from Aristotle to Mendel to Francis Collins, for the question marks at the center of every living cell. Like The Emperor of All Maladies, The Gene is prodigious, sweeping, and ultimately transcendent. If you’re interested in what it means to be human, today and in the tomorrows to come, you must read this book." -- Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See

" The Gene is a magnificent synthesis of the science of life, and forces all to confront the essence of that science as well as the ethical and philosophical challenges to our conception of what constitutes being human." -- Paul Berg, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

"Compelling... Highly recommended." ― Booklist, starred review

“Sobering, humbling, and extraordinarily rich reading from a wise and gifted writer who sees how far we have come—but how much farther far we have to go to understand our human nature and destiny.” ― Kirkus, starred review

"Mukherjee deftly relates the basic scientific facts about the way genes are believed to function, while making clear the aspects of genetics that remain unknown. He offers insight into both the scientific process and the sociology of science... By relating familial information, Mukherjee grounds the abstract in the personal to add power and poignancy to his excellent narrative." ― Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A magisterial account of how human minds have laboriously, ingeniously picked apart what makes us tick. . . . [The Gene] will confirm [Mukherjee] as our era’s preeminent popular historian of medicine. The Gene boats an even more ambitious sweep of human endeavor than its predecessor. . . . Mukherjee punctuates his encyclopedic investigations of collective and individual heritability, and our closing in on the genetic technologies that will transform how we will shape our own genome, with evocative personal anecdotes, deft literary allusions, wonderfully apt metaphors, and an irrepressible intellectual brio.” ― Ben Dickinson, Elle

“Magnificent…. The story [of the gene] has been told, piecemeal, in different ways, but never before with the scope and grandeur that Siddhartha Mukherjee brings to his new history… he views his subject panoptically, from a great and clarifying height, yet also intimately.” ― James Gleick, New York Times Book Review

“Many of the same qualities that made The Emperor of All Maladies so pleasurable are in full bloom in The Gene. The book is compassionate, tautly synthesized, packed with unfamiliar details about familiar people.” ― Jennifer Senior, The New York Times

“Mukherjee’s visceral and thought-provoking descriptions... clearly show what he is capable of, both as a writer and as a thinker.” ― Matthew Cobb, Nature

“His topic is compelling. . . . And it couldn’t have come at a better time.” ― Courtney Humphries, Boston Globe

"[Mukherjee] nourishes his dry topics into engaging reading, expresses abstract intellectual ideas through emotional stories . . . .[and] swaddles his medical rigor with rhapsodic tenderness, surprising vulnerability, and occasional flashes of pure poetry. . . . . With a marriage of architectural precision and luscious narrative, an eye for both the paradoxical detail and the unsettling irony, and a genius for locating the emotional truths buried in chemical abstractions, Mukherjee leaves you feeling as though you''ve just aced a college course for which you''d been afraid to register -- and enjoyed every minute of it." ― Andrew Solomon, Washington Post

“The Gene is equally authoritative [to Emperor], building on extensive research and erudition, and examining the Gordian knots of genes through the prism of his own family’s struggle with a disease. He renders complex science with a novelist’s skill for conjuring real lives, seismic events.” ― Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A fascinating and often sobering history of how humans came to understand the roles of genes in making us who we are—and what our manipulation of those genes might mean for our future. . . . The Gene captures the scientific method—questioning, researching, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing—in all its messy, fumbling glory, corkscrewing its way to deeper understanding and new questions.” ― Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“This is an intimate history. . . . This is a meticulous history. . . . This is a provocative history. . . . Most of all, this is a readable history. . . . The Gene is a story that, once read, makes us far better educated to think about the profound questions that will confront us in the coming decades.” ― Ron Krall, Steamboat Today

“Reading The Gene is like taking a course from a brilliant and passionate professor who is just sure he can make you understand what he’s talking about. . . . The Gene is excellent preparation for all the quandaries to come.” ― Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times

“Inspiring and tremendously evocative reading. . . . Like its predecessor, [The Gene] is both expansive and accessible . . . . In The Gene, Mukherjee spends most of his time looking into the past, and what he finds is consistently intriguing. But his sober warning about the future might be the book’s most important contribution.” ― Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle

“Destined to soar into the firmament of the year’s must reads, to win accolades and well-deserved prizes, and to set a new standard for lyrical science writing. . . . Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee dazzled readers with his Pulitzer-winning The Emperor of All Maladies in 2010. That achievement was evidently just a warm-up for his virtuoso performance in T he Gene: An Intimate History, in which he braids science, history, and memoir into an epic with all the range and biblical thunder of Paradise Lost. . . . Thanks to Dr. Mukherjee’s remarkably clear and compelling prose, the reader has a fighting chance of arriving at the story of today’s genetic manipulations with an actual understanding of both the immensely complicated science and the even more complicated moral questions.”  ― Abigail Zuger, New York Times Science Section

“[The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene] both beautifully navigate a sea of complicated medical information in a way that is digestible, poignant, and engaging . . . . [The Gene] is a book we all should read. I shook my head countless times while devouring it, wondering how the author—a brilliant physician, scientist, writer, and Rhodes Scholar—could possibly possess so many unique talents. When I closed the book for the final time, I had the answer: Must be in the genes.” ― Matt McCarthy, USA Today

“A brilliant exploration of some of our age’s most important social issues, from poverty to mental illness to the death penalty, and a beautiful, profound meditation on the truly human forces that drive them. It is disturbing, insightful, and mesmerizing in equal measure.”  ― Coastal Current

“Dr Mukherjee uses personal experience to particularly good effect. . . . Perhaps the most powerful lesson of Dr Mukherjee’s book [is]: genetics is starting to reveal how much the human race has to gain from tinkering with its genome, but still has precious little to say about how much we might lose.”  ― The Economist

“As compelling and revealing as [The Emperor of All Maladies]. . . . On one level, The Gene is a comprehensive compendium of well-told stories with a human touch. But at a deeper level, the book is far more than a simple science history.” ― Fred Bortz, Dalls Morning News

“Mukherjee is an assured, polished wordsmith . . . who displays a penchant for the odd adroit aphorism and well-placed pun. . . . A well-written, accessible, and entertaining account of one of the most important of all scientific revolutions, one that is destined to have a fundamental impact on the lives of generations to come. The Gene is an important guide to that future.” ― Robin McKie, The Guardian

About the Author

Siddhartha Mukherjee is the author of  The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, and The Laws of Medicine. He is the editor of Best Science Writing 2013. Mukherjee is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician and researcher. A Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, and Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in Nature, The New England Journal of MedicineThe New York Times, and Cell. He lives in New York with his wife and daughters. Visit his website at: SiddharthaMukherjee.com

 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Gene

The Walled Garden


The students of heredity, especially, understand all of their subject except their subject. They were, I suppose, bred and born in that brier-patch, and have really explored it without coming to the end of it. That is, they have studied everything but the question of what they are studying.

—G. K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils

Ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you.

—Job 12:8

The monastery was originally a nunnery. The monks of Saint Augustine’s Order had once lived—as they often liked to grouse—in more lavish circumstances in the ample rooms of a large stone abbey on the top of a hill in the heart of the medieval city of Brno (Brno in Czech, Brünn in German). The city had grown around them over four centuries, cascading down the slopes and then sprawling out over the flat landscape of farms and meadowlands below. But the friars had fallen out of favor with Emperor Joseph II in 1783. The midtown real estate was far too valuable to house them, the emperor had decreed bluntly—and the monks were packed off to a crumbling structure at the bottom of the hill in Old Brno, the ignominy of the relocation compounded by the fact that they had been assigned to live in quarters originally designed for women. The halls had the vague animal smell of damp mortar, and the grounds were overgrown with grass, bramble, and weeds. The only perk of this fourteenth-century building—as cold as a meathouse and as bare as a prison—was a rectangular garden with shade trees, stone steps, and a long alley, where the monks could walk and think in isolation.

The friars made the best of the new accommodations. A library was restored on the second floor. A study room was connected to it and outfitted with pine reading desks, a few lamps, and a growing collection of nearly ten thousand books, including the latest works of natural history, geology, and astronomy (the Augustinians, fortunately, saw no conflict between religion and most science; indeed, they embraced science as yet another testament of the workings of the divine order in the world). A wine cellar was carved out below, and a modest refectory vaulted above it. One-room cells, with the most rudimentary wooden furniture, housed the inhabitants on the second floor.

In October 1843, a young man from Silesia, the son of two peasants, joined the abbey. He was a short man with a serious face, myopic, and tending toward portliness. He professed little interest in the spiritual life—but was intellectually curious, good with his hands, and a natural gardener. The monastery provided him with a home, and a place to read and learn. He was ordained on August 6, 1847. His given name was Johann, but the friars changed it to Gregor Johann Mendel.

For the young priest in training, life at the monastery soon settled into a predictable routine. In 1845, as part of his monastic education, Mendel attended classes in theology, history, and natural sciences at Brno’s Theological College. The tumult of 1848—the bloody populist revolutions that swept fiercely through France, Denmark, Germany, and Austria and overturned social, political, and religious orders—largely passed him by, like distant thunder. Nothing about Mendel’s early years suggested even the faintest glimmer of the revolutionary scientist who would later emerge. He was disciplined, plodding, deferential—a man of habits among men in habits. His only challenge to authority, it seemed, was his occasional refusal to wear the scholar’s cap to class. Admonished by his superiors, he politely complied.

In the summer of 1848, Mendel began work as a parish priest in Brno. He was, by all accounts, terrible at the job. “Seized by an unconquerable timidity,” as the abbot described it, Mendel was tongue-tied in Czech (the language of most parishioners), uninspiring as a priest, and too neurotic to bear the emotional brunt of the work among the poor. Later that year, he schemed a perfect way out: he applied for a job to teach mathematics, natural sciences, and elementary Greek at the Znaim High School. With a helpful nudge from the abbey, Mendel was selected—although there was a catch. Knowing that he had never been trained as a teacher, the school asked Mendel to sit for the formal examination in the natural sciences for high school teachers.

In the late spring of 1850, an eager Mendel took the written version of the exam in Brno. He failed—with a particularly abysmal performance in geology (“arid, obscure and hazy,” one reviewer complained of Mendel’s writing on the subject). On July 20, in the midst of an enervating heat wave in Austria, he traveled from Brno to Vienna to take the oral part of the exam. On August 16, he appeared before his examiners to be tested in the natural sciences. This time, his performance was even worse—in biology. Asked to describe and classify mammals, he scribbled down an incomplete and absurd system of taxonomy—omitting categories, inventing others, lumping kangaroos with beavers, and pigs with elephants. “The candidate seems to know nothing about technical terminology, naming all animals in colloquial German, and avoiding systematic nomenclature,” one of the examiners wrote. Mendel failed again.

In August, Mendel returned to Brno with his exam results. The verdict from the examiners had been clear: if Mendel was to be allowed to teach, he needed additional education in the natural sciences—more advanced training than the monastery library, or its walled garden, could provide. Mendel applied to the University of Vienna to pursue a degree in the natural sciences. The abbey intervened with letters and pleas; Mendel was accepted.

In the winter of 1851, Mendel boarded the train to enroll in his classes at the university. It was here that Mendel’s problems with biology—and biology’s problems with Mendel—would begin.



The night train from Brno to Vienna slices through a spectacularly bleak landscape in the winter—the farmlands and vineyards buried in frost, the canals hardened into ice-blue venules, the occasional farmhouse blanketed in the locked darkness of Central Europe. The river Thaya crosses the land, half-frozen and sluggish; the islands of the Danube come into view. It is a distance of only ninety miles—a journey of about four hours in Mendel’s time. But the morning of his arrival, it was as if Mendel had woken up in a new cosmos.

In Vienna, science was crackling, electric—alive. At the university, just a few miles from his back-alley boardinghouse on Invalidenstrasse, Mendel began to experience the intellectual baptism that he had so ardently sought in Brno. Physics was taught by Christian Doppler, the redoubtable Austrian scientist who would become Mendel’s mentor, teacher, and idol. In 1842, Doppler, a gaunt, acerbic thirty-nine-year-old, had used mathematical reasoning to argue that the pitch of sound (or the color of light) was not fixed, but depended on the location and velocity of the observer. Sound from a source speeding toward a listener would become compressed and register at a higher pitch, while sound speeding away would be heard with a drop in its pitch. Skeptics had scoffed: How could the same light, emitted from the same lamp, be registered as different colors by different viewers? But in 1845, Doppler had loaded a train with a band of trumpet players and asked them to hold a note as the train sped forward. As the audience on the platform listened in disbelief, a higher note came from the train as it approached, and a lower note emanated as it sped away.

Sound and light, Doppler argued, behaved according to universal and natural laws—even if these were deeply counterintuitive to ordinary viewers or listeners. Indeed, if you looked carefully, all the chaotic and complex phenomena of the world were the result of highly organized natural laws. Occasionally, our intuitions and perceptions might allow us to grasp these natural laws. But more commonly, a profoundly artificial experiment—loading trumpeters on a speeding train—might be necessary to understand and demonstrate these laws.

Doppler’s demonstrations and experiments captivated Mendel as much as they frustrated him. Biology, his main subject, seemed to be a wild, overgrown garden of a discipline, lacking any systematic organizing principles. Superficially, there seemed to be a profusion of order—or rather a profusion of Orders. The reigning discipline in biology was taxonomy, an elaborate attempt to classify and subclassify all living things into distinct categories: Kingdoms, Phylae, Classes, Orders, Families, Genera, and Species. But these categories, originally devised by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the mid-1700s, were purely descriptive, not mechanistic. The system described how to categorize living things on the earth, but did not ascribe an underlying logic to its organization. Why, a biologist might ask, were living things categorized in this manner? What maintained its constancy or fidelity: What kept elephants from morphing into pigs, or kangaroos into beavers? What was the mechanism of heredity? Why, or how, did like beget like?



The question of “likeness” had preoccupied scientists and philosophers for centuries. Pythagoras, the Greek scholar—half scientist, half mystic—who lived in Croton around 530 BC, proposed one of the earliest and most widely accepted theories to explain the similarity between parents and their children. The core of Pythagoras’s theory was that hereditary information (“likeness”) was principally carried in male semen. Semen collected these instructions by coursing through a man’s body and absorbing mystical vapors from each of the individual parts (the eyes contributed their color, the skin its texture, the bones their length, and so forth). Over a man’s life, his semen grew into a mobile library of every part of the body—a condensed distillate of the self.

This self-information—seminal, in the most literal sense—was transmitted into a female body during intercourse. Once inside the womb, semen matured into a fetus via nourishment from the mother. In reproduction (as in any form of production) men’s work and women’s work were clearly partitioned, Pythagoras argued. The father provided the essential information to create a fetus. The mother’s womb provided nutrition so that this data could be transformed into a child. The theory was eventually called spermism, highlighting the central role of the sperm in determining all the features of a fetus.

In 458 BC, a few decades after Pythagoras’s death, the playwright Aeschylus used this odd logic to provide one of history’s most extraordinary legal defenses of matricide. The central theme of Aeschylus’s Eumenides is the trial of Orestes, the prince of Argos, for the murder of his mother, Clytemnestra. In most cultures, matricide was perceived as an ultimate act of moral perversion. In Eumenides, Apollo, chosen to represent Orestes in his murder trial, mounts a strikingly original argument: he reasons that Orestes’s mother is no more than a stranger to him. A pregnant woman is just a glorified human incubator, Apollo argues, an intravenous bag dripping nutrients through the umbilical cord into her child. The true forebear of all humans is the father, whose sperm carries “likeness.” “Not the true parent is the woman’s womb that bears the child,” Apollo tells a sympathetic council of jurors. “She doth but nurse the seed, new-sown. The male is parent. She for him—as stranger for a stranger—just hoards the germ of life.”

The evident asymmetry of this theory of inheritance—the male supplying all the “nature” and the female providing the initial “nurture” in her womb—didn’t seem to bother Pythagoras’s followers; indeed, they may have found it rather pleasing. Pythagoreans were obsessed with the mystical geometry of triangles. Pythagoras had learned the triangle theorem—that the length of the third side of a right-angled triangle can be deduced mathematically from the length of the other two sides—from Indian or Babylonian geometers. But the theorem became inextricably attached to his name (henceforth called the Pythagorean theorem), and his students offered it as proof that such secret mathematical patterns—“harmonies”—were lurking everywhere in nature. Straining to see the world through triangle-shaped lenses, Pythagoreans argued that in heredity too a triangular harmony was at work. The mother and the father were two independent sides and the child was the third—the biological hypotenuse to the parents’ two lines. And just as a triangle’s third side could arithmetically be derived from the two other sides using a strict mathematical formula, so was a child derived from the parents’ individual contributions: nature from father and nurture from mother.

A century after Pythagoras’s death, Plato, writing in 380 BC, was captivated by this metaphor. In one of the most intriguing passages in The Republic—borrowed, in part, from Pythagoras—Plato argued that if children were the arithmetic derivatives of their parents, then, at least in principle, the formula could be hacked: perfect children could be derived from perfect combinations of parents breeding at perfectly calibrated times. A “theorem” of heredity existed; it was merely waiting to be known. By unlocking the theorem and then enforcing its prescriptive combinations, any society could guarantee the production of the fittest children—unleashing a sort of numerological eugenics: “For when your guardians are ignorant of the law of births, and unite bride and bridegroom out of season, the children will not be goodly or fortunate,” Plato concluded. The guardians of his republic, its elite ruling class, having deciphered the “law of births,” would ensure that only such harmonious “fortunate” unions would occur in the future. A political utopia would develop as a consequence of genetic utopia.



It took a mind as precise and analytical as Aristotle’s to systematically dismantle Pythagoras’s theory of heredity. Aristotle was not a particularly ardent champion of women, but he nevertheless believed in using evidence as the basis of theory building. He set about dissecting the merits and problems of “spermism” using experimental data from the biological world. The result, a compact treatise titled Generation of Animals, would serve as a foundational text for human genetics just as Plato’s Republic was a founding text for political philosophy.

Aristotle rejected the notion that heredity was carried exclusively in male semen or sperm. He noted, astutely, that children can inherit features from their mothers and grandmothers (just as they inherit features from their fathers and grandfathers), and that these features can even skip generations, disappearing for one generation and reappearing in the next. “And from deformed [parents] deformed [offspring] comes to be,” he wrote, “just as lame come to be from lame and blind from blind, and in general they resemble often the features that are against nature, and have inborn signs such as growths and scars. Some of such features have even been transmitted through three [generations]: for instance, someone who had a mark on his arm and his son was born without it, but his grandson had black in the same place, but in a blurred way. . . . In Sicily a woman committed adultery with a man from Ethiopia; the daughter did not become an Ethiopian, but her [grand]daughter did.” A grandson could be born with his grandmother’s nose or her skin color, without that feature being visible in either parent—a phenomenon virtually impossible to explain in terms of Pythagoras’s scheme of purely patrilineal heredity.

Aristotle challenged Pythagoras’s “traveling library” notion that semen collected hereditary information by coursing through the body and obtaining secret “instructions” from each individual part. “Men generate before they yet have certain characters, such as a beard or grey hair,” Aristotle wrote perceptively—but they pass on those features to their children. Occasionally, the feature transmitted through heredity was not even corporeal: a manner of walking, say, or a way of staring into space, or even a state of mind. Aristotle argued that such traits—not material to start with—could not materialize into semen. And finally, and perhaps more obviously, he attacked Pythagoras’s scheme with the most self-evident of arguments: it could not possibly account for female anatomy. How could a father’s sperm “absorb” the instructions to produce his daughter’s “generative parts,” Aristotle asked, when none of these parts was to be found anywhere in the father’s body? Pythagoras’s theory could explain every aspect of genesis except the most crucial one: genitals.

Aristotle offered an alternative theory that was strikingly radical for its time: perhaps females, like males, contribute actual material to the fetus—a form of female semen. And perhaps the fetus is formed by the mutual contributions of male and female parts. Grasping for analogies, Aristotle called the male contribution a “principle of movement.” “Movement,” here, was not literally motion, but instruction, or information—code, to use a modern formulation. The actual material exchanged during intercourse was merely a stand-in for a more obscure and mysterious exchange. Matter, in fact, didn’t really matter; what passed from man to woman was not matter, but message. Like an architectural plan for a building, or like a carpenter’s handiwork to a piece of wood, male semen carried the instructions to build a child. “[Just as] no material part comes from the carpenter to the wood in which he works,” Aristotle wrote, “but the shape and the form are imparted from him to the material by means of the motion he sets up. . . . In like manner, Nature uses the semen as a tool.”

Female semen, in contrast, contributed the physical raw material for the fetus—wood for the carpenter, or mortar for the building: the stuff and the stuffing of life. Aristotle argued that the actual material provided by females was menstrual blood. Male semen sculpted menstrual blood into the shape of a child (the claim might sound outlandish today, but here too Aristotle’s meticulous logic was at work. Since the disappearance of menstrual blood is coincident with conception, Aristotle assumed that the fetus must be made from it).

Aristotle was wrong in his partitioning of male and female contributions into “material” and “message,” but abstractly, he had captured one of the essential truths about the nature of heredity. The transmission of heredity, as Aristotle perceived it, was essentially the transmission of information. Information was then used to build an organism from scratch: message became material. And when an organism matured, it generated male or female semen again—transforming material back to message. In fact, rather than Pythagoras’s triangle, there was a circle, or a cycle, at work: form begat information, and then information begat form. Centuries later, the biologist Max Delbrück would joke that Aristotle should have been given the Nobel Prize posthumously—for the discovery of DNA.



But if heredity was transmitted as information, then how was that information encoded? The word code comes from the Latin caudex, the wooden pith of a tree on which scribes carved their writing. What, then, was the caudex of heredity? What was being transcribed, and how? How was the material packaged and transported from one body to the next? Who encrypted the code, and who translated it, to create a child?

The most inventive solution to these questions was the simplest: it dispensed of code altogether. Sperm, this theory argued, already contained a minihuman—a tiny fetus, fully formed, shrunken and curled into a minuscule package and waiting to be progressively inflated into a baby. Variations of this theory appear in medieval myths and folklore. In the 1520s, the Swiss-German alchemist Paracelsus used the minihuman-in-sperm theory to suggest that human sperm, heated with horse dung and buried in mud for the forty weeks of normal conception, would eventually grow into a human, although with some monstrous characteristics. The conception of a normal child was merely the transfer of this minihuman—the homunculus—from the father’s sperm into the mother’s womb. In the womb, the minihuman was expanded to the size of the fetus. There was no code; there was only miniaturization.

The peculiar charm of this idea—called preformation—was that it was infinitely recursive. Since the homunculus had to mature and produce its own children, it had to have preformed mini-homunculi lodged inside it—tiny humans encased inside humans, like an infinite series of Russian dolls, a great chain of beings that stretched all the way backward from the present to the first man, to Adam, and forward into the future. For medieval Christians, the existence of such a chain of humans provided a most powerful and original understanding of original sin. Since all future humans were encased within all humans, each of us had to have been physically present inside Adam’s body—“floating . . . in our First Parent’s loins,” as one theologian described—during his crucial moment of sin. Sinfulness, therefore, was embedded within us thousands of years before we were born—from Adam’s loins directly to his line. All of us bore its taint—not because our distant ancestor had been tempted in that distant garden, but because each of us, lodged in Adam’s body, had actually tasted the fruit.

The second charm of preformation was that it dispensed of the problem of de-encryption. Even if early biologists could fathom encryption—the conversion of a human body into some sort of code (by osmosis, à la Pythagoras)—the reverse act, deciphering that code back into a human being, completely boggled the mind. How could something as complex as a human form emerge out of the union of sperm and egg? The homunculus dispensed of this conceptual problem. If a child came already preformed, then its formation was merely an act of expansion—a biological version of a blowup doll. No key or cipher was required for the deciphering. The genesis of a human being was just a matter of adding water.

The theory was so seductive—so artfully vivid—that even the invention of the microscope was unable to deal the expected fatal blow to the homunculus. In 1694, Nicolaas Hartsoeker, the Dutch physicist and microscopist, conjured a picture of such a minibeing, its enlarged head twisted in fetal position and curled into the head of a sperm. In 1699, another Dutch microscopist claimed to have found homuncular creatures floating abundantly in human sperm. As with any anthropomorphic fantasy—finding human faces on the moon, say—the theory was only magnified by the lenses of imagination: pictures of homunculi proliferated in the seventeenth century, with the sperm’s tail reconceived into a filament of human hair, or its cellular head visualized as a tiny human skull. By the end of the seventeenth century, preformation was considered the most logical and consistent explanation for human and animal heredity. Men came from small men, as large trees came from small cuttings. “In nature there is no generation,” the Dutch scientist Jan Swammerdam wrote in 1669, “but only propagation.”



But not everyone could be convinced that miniature humans were infinitely encased inside humans. The principal challenge to preformation was the idea that something had to happen during embryogenesis that led to the formation of entirely new parts in the embryo. Humans did not come pre-shrunk and premade, awaiting only expansion. They had to be generated from scratch, using specific instructions locked inside the sperm and egg. Limbs, torsos, brains, eyes, faces—even temperaments or propensities that were inherited—had to be created anew each time an embryo unfurled into a human fetus. Genesis happened . . . well—by genesis.

By what impetus, or instruction, was the embryo, and the final organism, generated from sperm and egg? In 1768, the Berlin embryologist Caspar Wolff tried to finesse an answer by concocting a guiding principle—vis essentialis corporis, as he called it—that progressively shepherded the maturation of a fertilized egg into a human form. Like Aristotle, Wolff imagined that the embryo contained some sort of encrypted information—code—that was not merely a miniature version of a human, but instructions to make a human from scratch. But aside from inventing a Latinate name for a vague principle, Wolff could provide no further specifics. The instructions, he argued obliquely, were blended together in the fertilized egg. The vis essentialis then came along, like an invisible hand, and molded the formation of this mass into a human form.



While biologists, philosophers, Christian scholars, and embryologists fought their way through vicious debates between preformation and the “invisible hand” throughout much of the eighteenth century, a casual observer may have been forgiven for feeling rather unimpressed by it all. This was, after all, stale news. “The opposing views of today were in existence centuries ago,” a nineteenth-century biologist complained, rightfully. Indeed, preformation was largely a restatement of Pythagoras’s theory—that sperm carried all the information to make a new human. And the “invisible hand” was, in turn, merely a gilded variant of Aristotle’s idea—that heredity was carried in the form of messages to create materials (it was the “hand” that carried the instructions to mold an embryo).

In time, both the theories would be spectacularly vindicated, and spectacularly demolished. Both Aristotle and Pythagoras were partially right and partially wrong. But in the early 1800s, it seemed as if the entire field of heredity and embryogenesis had reached a conceptual impasse. The world’s greatest biological thinkers, having pored over the problem of heredity, had scarcely advanced the field beyond the cryptic musings of two men who had lived on two Greek islands two thousand years earlier.

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James D. Michels
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A great history with a flaws
Reviewed in the United States on May 28, 2019
If you are thinking of buying this book, please note the word "History" in the title. If you are looking for a history book on genetics, heritability and the human understanding of these things, this is a great book. If you are interested in deep technical descriptions or... See more
If you are thinking of buying this book, please note the word "History" in the title. If you are looking for a history book on genetics, heritability and the human understanding of these things, this is a great book. If you are interested in deep technical descriptions or in understanding the latest in gene editing technology, this is not the right book.

The great aspect of the book is that it weaves together and conceptualizes all the bits of genetics we remember from high school biology and various articles and books we have read over the decades. The author is very good at this. The book can give you an excellent basic understanding of the topic.

The downsides:
1. The author attempts to weave personal family stories into the book and relate them to genetics. The stories are not interesting and are not tied into the narrative well. Fortunately, it is very easy to skip these sections. You lose nothing in your understanding if you just skip them.
2. Every time a sensitive topic comes up like eugenics, the author puts in a great deal of effort in virtue signaling about being on the right side of the topic. The endless condemning of Nazis is not really necessary. We kind of assume the author is not an admirer of Nazis. The author goes into a long straw man argument attempting to debunk "The Bell Curve" and then restates the primary thesis of the book as established fact. It looked like he had never read the book, but needed to condemn it so he could stay in academic good graces.
3. The later parts of the book fall short as the author gets into very recent technology. The early historical narratives are excellent. The later chapters lack quality and clarity.

All in all, a very worthwhile book and I have not seen anything that would provide a better history. Read the book, just be aware that there are flaws.
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Ashutosh S. Jogalekar
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
"We used to think our future was in the stars. Now we know it''s in our genes."
Reviewed in the United States on May 17, 2016
Genetics is humanity and life writ large, and this book on the gene by physician and writer Siddhartha Mukherjee paints on a canvas as large as life itself. It deals with both the history of genetics and its applications in health and disease. It shows us that studying the... See more
Genetics is humanity and life writ large, and this book on the gene by physician and writer Siddhartha Mukherjee paints on a canvas as large as life itself. It deals with both the history of genetics and its applications in health and disease. It shows us that studying the gene not only holds the potential to transform the treatment of human disease and to feed the world’s burgeoning population, but promises to provide a window into life’s deepest secrets and into our very identity as human beings.

The volume benefits from Mukherjee’s elegant literary style, novelist’s eye for character sketches and expansive feel for human history. While there is ample explanation of the science, the focus is really on the brilliant human beings who made it all possible. The author’s own troubling family history of mental illness serves as a backdrop and keeps on rearing its head like a looming, unresolved question. The story begins with a trip to an asylum to see his troubled cousin; two of his uncles have also suffered from various "unravelings of the mind". This burden of personal inheritance sets the stage for many of the questions about nature, nurture and destiny asked in the pages that follow.

The book can roughly be divided into two parts. The first part is a sweeping and vivid history of genetics. The second half is a meditation on what studying the gene means for human biology and medicine.

The account is more or less chronological and this approach naturally serves the historical portion well. Mukherjee does a commendable job shedding light on the signal historical achievements of the men and women who deciphered the secret of life. Kicking off from the Greeks’ nebulous but intriguing ideas on heredity, the book settles on the genetics pioneer Gregor Mendel. Mendel was an abbot in a little known town in Central Europe whose pioneering experiments on pea plants provided the first window into the gene and evolution. He discovered that discrete traits could be transmitted in statistically predictable ways from one generation to next. Darwin came tantalizingly close to discovering Mendel’s ideas (the two were contemporaries), but inheritance was one of the few things he got wrong. Instead, a triumvirate of scientists rediscovered Mendel’s work almost thirty years after his death and spread the word far and wide. Mendel’s work shows us that genius can emerge from the most unlikely quarters; one wonders how rapidly his work might have been disseminated had the Internet been around.

The baton of the gene was next picked up by Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin. Galton was the father of eugenics. Eugenics has now acquired a bad reputation, but Galton was a polymath who made important contributions to science by introducing statistics and measurements in the study of genetic differences. Many of the early eugenicists subscribed to the racial theories that were common in those days; many of them were well intended if patronizing, seeking to ‘improve the weak’, but they did not see the ominous slippery slope which they were on. Sadly their ideas fed into the unfortunate history of eugenics in America and Europe. Eugenics was enthusiastically supported in the United States; Mukherjee discusses the infamous Supreme Court case in which Oliver Wendell Holmes sanctioned the forced sterilization of an unfortunate woman named Carrie Buck by proclaiming, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough”. Another misuse of genetics was by Trofim Lysenko who tried to use Lamarck’s theories of acquired characteristics in doomed agricultural campaigns in Stalinist Russia; as an absurd example, he tried to “re educate” wheat using “shock therapy”. The horrific racial depredations of the Nazis which the narrative documents in some detail of course “put the ultimate mark of shame” on eugenics.

The book then moves on to Thomas Hunt Morgan’s very important experiments on fruit flies. Morgan and his colleagues found a potent tool to study gene propagation in naturally occurring mutations. Mutations in specific genes (for instance ones causing changes in eye color) allowed them to track the flow of genetic material through several generations. Not only did they make the crucial discovery that genes lie on chromosomes, but they also discovered that genes could be inherited (and also segregated) in groups rather than by themselves. Mukherjee also has an eye for historical detail; for example, right at the time that Morgan was experimenting on flies, Russia was experimenting with a bloody revolution. This coincidence gives Mukherjee an opening to discuss hemophilia in the Russian royal family – a genetically inherited disease. A parallel discussion talks about the fusion of Darwin''s and Mendel’s ideas by Ronald Fisher, Theodosius Dobzhansky and others into a modern theory of genetics supported by statistical reasoning in the 40s – what’s called the Modern Synthesis.

Morgan and others’ work paved the way to recognizing that the gene is not just some abstract, ether-like ghost which transmits itself into the next generation but a material entity. That material entity was called DNA. The scientists most important for recognizing this fact were Frederick Griffiths and Oswald Avery and Mukherjee tells their story well; however I would have appreciated a fuller account of Friedrich Miescher who discovered DNA in pus bandages from soldiers. Griffiths showed that DNA can be responsible for converting non-virulent bacteria to virulent ones; Avery showed that it is a distinct molecule separate from protein (a lot of people believed that proteins with their functional significance were the hereditary material).

All these events set the stage for the golden age of molecular biology, the deciphering of the structure of DNA by James Watson (to whom the quote in the title is attributed), Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin and others. Many of these pioneers were inspired by a little book by physicist Erwin Schrodinger which argued that the gene could be understood using precise principles of physics and chemistry; his arguments turned biology into a reductionist science. Mukherjee’s account of this seminal discovery is crisp and vivid. He documents Franklin’s struggles and unfair treatment as well as Watson and Crick’s do-what-it-takes attitude to use all possible information to crack the DNA puzzle. As a woman in a man’s establishment Franklin was in turn patronized and sidelined, but unlike Watson and Crick she was averse to building models and applying the principles of chemistry to the problem, two traits that were key to the duo’s success.

The structure of DNA of course inaugurated one of the most sparkling periods in the history of intellectual thought since it immediately suggested an exact mechanism for copying the hereditary material as well as a link between DNA and proteins which are the workhorses of life. The major thread following from DNA to protein was the cracking of the genetic code which specifies a correspondence between nucleotides on a gene and the amino acids of a protein: the guiding philosophers in this effort were Francis Crick and Sydney Brenner. A parallel thread follows the crucial work of the French biologists Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod - both of whom had fought in the French resistance during World War 2 - in establishing the mechanism of gene regulation. All these developments laid the foundation for our modern era of genetic engineering.

The book devotes a great deal of space to this foundation and does so with verve and authority. It talks about early efforts to sequence the gene at Harvard and Cambridge and describes the founding of Genentech, the first company to exploit the new technology which pioneered many uses of genes for producing drugs and hormones: much of this important work was done with phages, viruses which infect bacteria. There is also an important foray into using genetics to understand embryology and human development, a topic with ponderous implications for our future. With the new technology also came new moral issues, as exemplified by the 1975 Asilomar conference which tried to hammer out agreements for the responsible use of genetic engineering. I am glad Mukherjee emphasizes these events, since their importance is only going to grow as genetic technology becomes more widespread and accessible.

These early efforts exploded on to the stage when the Human Genome Project (HGP) was announced, and that’s where the first part of the book roughly ends. Beginning with the HGP, the second part mainly focuses on the medical history and implications of the gene. Mukherjee’s discussion of the HGP focuses mainly on the rivalries between the scientists and the competing efforts led by Francis Collins of the NIH and Craig Venter, the maverick scientist who broke off and started his own company. This discussion is somewhat brief but it culminates in the announcement of the map of the human genome at the White House in 2000. It is clear now that this “map” was no more than a listing of components; we still have to understand what the components mean. Part of that lake of ignorance was revealed by the discovery of so-called ‘epigenetic’ elements that modify not the basic sequence of DNA but the way it’s expressed. Epigenetics is an as yet ill-understood mix of gene and environment which the book describes in some detail. It’s worth noting that Mukherjee’s discussion of epigenetics has faced some criticism lately, especially based on his article on the topic in the New Yorker.

The book then talks about early successes in correlating genes with illness that came with the advent of the human genome and epigenome; genetics has been very useful in finding determinants and drugs for diseases like sickle cell anemia, childhood leukemia, breast cancer and cystic fibrosis. Mukherjee especially has an excellent account of Nancy Wexler, the discoverer of the gene causing Huntington’s disease, whose search for its origins led her to families stricken with the malady in remote parts of Venezuela. While such diseases have clear genetic determinants, as Mukherjee expounds upon at length, genetic causes for diseases like cancer, diabetes and especially the mental illness which plagues members of the author’s family are woefully ill-understood, largely because they are multifactorial and suffer from weakly correlated markers. We have a long way to go before the majority of human diseases can be treated using gene-based treatment. In its latter half the book also describes attempts to link genes to homosexuality, race, IQ, temperament and gender identity. The basic verdict is that while there is undoubtedly a genetic component to all these factors, the complex interplay between genes and environment means that it’s very difficult currently to tease apart influences from the two. More research is clearly needed.

The last part of the book focuses on some cutting edge research on genetics that’s uncovering both potent tools for precise gene engineering as well as deep insights into human evolution. A notable section of the book is devoted to the recent discovery that Neanderthals and humans most likely interbred. Transgenic organisms, stem cells and gene therapy also get a healthy review, and the author talks about successes and failures in these areas (an account of a gene therapy trial gone wrong is poignant and rattling) as well as ethical and political questions which they raise. Finally, a new technology called CRISPR which has taken the world of science by storm gets an honorary mention: by promising to edit and propagate genes with unprecedented precision - even in the germ line - CRISPR has resurrected all the angels and demons from the history of genetics. What we decide about technologies like CRISPR today will impact what our children do tomorrow. The clock is ticking.

In a project as ambitious as this there are bound to be a few gaps. Some of the gaps left me a bit befuddled though. There are a few minor scientific infelicities: for instance Linus Pauling’s structure of DNA was not really flawed because of a lack of magnesium ions but mainly because it sported a form of the phosphate groups that wouldn’t exist at the marginally alkaline pH of the human body. The book’s treatment of the genetic code leaves out some key exciting moments, such as when a scientific bombshell from biochemist Marshall Nirenberg disrupted a major meeting in the former Soviet Union. I also kept wondering how any discussion of DNA’s history could omit the famous Meselson-Stahl experiment; this experiment which very elegantly illuminated the central feature of DNA replication has been called “the most beautiful experiment in biology”. Similarly I could see no mention of Barbara McClintock whose experiments on ‘jumping genes’ were critical in understanding how genes can be turned on and off. I was also surprised to find few details on a technique called PCR without which modern genetic research would be virtually impossible: both PCR and its inventor Kary Mullis have a colorful history that would have been worth including. Similarly, details of cutting-edge sequencing techniques which have outpaced Moore’s Law are also largely omitted. I understand that a 600 page history cannot include every single scientific detail, but some of these omissions seem to me to be too important to be left out.

More broadly, there is no discussion of the pros and cons of using DNA to convict criminals: that would have made for a compelling human interest story. Nor is there much exploration of using gene sequences to illuminate the ‘tree of life’ which Darwin tantalizingly pulled the veil back on: in general I would have appreciated a bigger discussion of how DNA connects us to all living creatures. There are likewise no accounts of some of the fascinating applications of DNA in archaeological investigations. Finally, and this is not his fault, the author suffers from the natural disadvantage of not being able to interview many of the pioneers of molecular biology since they aren’t around any more (fortunately, Horace Freeland Judson’s superb “The Eighth Day of Creation” fills this gap: Judson got to interview almost every one of them for his book). This makes his account of science sound a bit more linear than the messy, human process that it is.

The volume ends by contemplating some philosophical questions: What are the moral and societal implications of being able to engineer genomes even in the fetal stage? How do we control the evils to which genetic technology can be put? What is natural and what isn’t in the age of the artificial gene? How do we balance the relentless, almost inevitable pace of science with the human quest for responsible conduct, dignity and equality? Mukherjee leaves us with a picture of these questions as well as one of his family and their shared burden of mental illness: a mirage searching for realization, a sea of questions looking for a tiny boat filled with answers.

Overall I found “The Gene: An Intimate History” to be beautifully written with a literary flair, and in spite of the omissions, the parts of genetic history and medicine which it does discuss are important and instructive. Its human stories are poignant, its lessons for the future pregnant with pitfalls and possibilities. Its sweeping profile of life’s innermost secrets could not help but remind me of a Japanese proverb quoted by physicist Richard Feynman: “To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.” The gene is the ultimate key of this kind, and Mukherjee’s book explores its fine contours in all their glory and tragedy. We have a choice in deciding which of these contours we want to follow.
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Peter Schaeffer
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great Book, Well Worth Reading
Reviewed in the United States on September 12, 2018
This is an interesting book. Indeed, it is a fascinating book. However, it suffers from a very basic flow. The author is attempting to write a Politically Correct (PC) book about the least PC subject imaginable, genetics. The book opens with a harrowing tale of how genetics... See more
This is an interesting book. Indeed, it is a fascinating book. However, it suffers from a very basic flow. The author is attempting to write a Politically Correct (PC) book about the least PC subject imaginable, genetics. The book opens with a harrowing tale of how genetics (genetic inheritance) has cursed the author’s family (via an inherited tendency towards schizophrenia). This sad tale was quite illuminating for me personally. My own family does not have a history of schizophrenia. However, the book mentions three other very serious inherited (as in the tendency towards) disorders that do run in my family.

Somehow, the reader is expected to believe that a great many aspects of human life are heritable (to a greater or lesser extent), but anything PC is not. To be fair that is not really the author’s position (in all cases). The dominant view of sexual preference (homosexuality) is that it is at least partially genetic. The gay community and the author embrace at least partial genetic determinism in this case (sexual preference) and the evidence supporting this view is quite strong. Of course, in this case, genetic determinism (partial) and PC are aligned making the author’s take rather easy. In this context the author mocks (quite rightfully) the opinions of Lewontin.

“There is no acceptable evidence that homosexuality has any genetic basis. . . . The story has been manufactured out of whole cloth,” Lewontin wrote.

The author also argues that sex is real and sex and gender are inseparable in most (but not all cases). The tragic tale of David Reimer shows up, along with a (highly justified) denunciation of the abominable Dr. John Money. Quote from the book

“These case reports finally 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”

The author also argues that race is real and has a genetic basis. This is the scientific consensus, even if the “non-existence of race” is the rigidly enforced PC dogma of our time. Conversely, the author argues that “race is only skin deep”. This may or may not be true. Quote

“Yet, even a young species possesses history. One of the most penetrating powers of genomics is its ability to organize even closely related genomes into classes and subclasses. If we go hunting for discriminatory features and clusters, then we will, indeed, find features and clusters to discriminate. Examined carefully, the variations in the human genome will cluster in geographic regions and continents, and along traditional boundaries of race. Every genome bears the mark of its ancestry. By studying the genetic characteristics of an individual you can pinpoint his or her origin to a certain continent, nationality, state, or even a tribe with remarkable accuracy. It is, to be sure, an apotheosis of small differences—but if this is what we mean by “race,” then the concept has not just survived the genomic era, it has been amplified by it.”

The author invokes Lewontin to defend his ideas about genetics and race. Of course, this is the same Lewontin whom the author mocks with respect to homosexuality.

The author goes to some pains to denounce eugenics, Nazi and otherwise. Reading the book, you would never know that the most prominent advocates of eugenics (in the UK and perhaps the US) were left-wing socialists. For example, Sidney Webb was a prominent far-left political figure who devoted much of his later life to promoting the Soviet Union. The list of left-wing eugenicists is rather long and includes George Bernard Shaw, William Beveridge, Marie Stopes (the UK version of Margaret Sanger who was also a eugenicist), Harold Laski, Haldane (a Marxist), and of course, John Maynard Keynes (not a Marxist).

To the author’s credit, the modern revival of eugenics (via prenatal testing and selective abortion) is covered in detail, with the troubling echoes of the past heard well. A more subtle point (unmentioned by the author) is that institutionalized populations are (these days) deliberately isolated to prevent sexual relationships. In a bygone era, the “unfit” were sterilized, now that kept behind walls and barbed wire.
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Sarvajit
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not like Emperor of maladies
Reviewed in the United States on November 1, 2020
I really liked Emperor of maladies, but this one was boring and I read only half of it. There isnt much to say about gene but the author didnt want to keep the book concise. So you''ll find detailed descriptions of conference halls, office rooms etc and interspersed with... See more
I really liked Emperor of maladies, but this one was boring and I read only half of it. There isnt much to say about gene but the author didnt want to keep the book concise. So you''ll find detailed descriptions of conference halls, office rooms etc and interspersed with personal stories which have nothing with the book. It is becoming a new trend among authors to get some sympathy by saying some sad family story (related or not). In all it gives decent overview of the events that led to discovery of gene. Also a lot of things get very technical but the author doesnt believe in using diagrams. But a picture is worth a thousand words. We will very technical descriptions of cell spliting and stuff with no figures or charts. That made it tough for me to keep up with the book.
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Franklin the Mouse
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Gen(i)e Is Out Of The Bottle
Reviewed in the United States on April 11, 2020
The author of ‘The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer’ has written another terrific book. You do not have to be adept at science or strutting around with an Einstein intelligence to understand and appreciate Dr. Mukherjee’s ‘The Gene: An Intimate History.’ Some... See more
The author of ‘The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer’ has written another terrific book. You do not have to be adept at science or strutting around with an Einstein intelligence to understand and appreciate Dr. Mukherjee’s ‘The Gene: An Intimate History.’ Some portions I needed to read at a slower rate to fully understand his explanation, but they were worth the effort. A few times this humble dimwit even went to YouTube for visual clarification. If you do not understand all the commotion about the gene, then this book will surely enlighten you.

While it is not the center of his presentation religious orthodoxy was a hindrance for centuries in trying to understand how heredity works. Hypotheses led to experimentation and observation but public reaction, even within academic circles, was met with heated resistance because the evidence challenged the concept that God or gods created the world as we see it. Evolution was peeing all over their fairy tales. Dr. Mukherjee covers the first notable hypotheses as far back as the Greek Empire as well as Charles Darwin’s and Gregor Mendel’s history and contributions to the theory of evolution and heredity. The book continues down the roads of discovery to explain how legions of scientists deciphered the existence and function of genes. ‘The Gene’ covers such topics as eugenics; mutations a.k.a. genetic variation; DNA and RNA; the Human Genome Project; dominant and recessive genes; the importance of proteins; gene cloning; fetal diagnosis; and creating medicines. Illnesses such as Huntington’s disease, hemophilia, Down’s Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, cancers, and mental illness are explained through the personal struggles by various victims. You’re seriously one cold fish if you do not find their stories heart-wrenching. Dr. Mukherjee includes personal stories about his extended family coping with multiple cases of schizophrenia. While the first half of the book is more a history of gene discovery and science, the last portion takes a more theoretical approach by addressing complex science and moral issues such as what constitutes intelligence; sex determinism; gender identity; sexual identity; the effects of genes on human personalities and behavior; embryonic stem cell research; gene editing, and the potential hazards of the genetic-commercial complex. The author includes some graphics at key points to help the reader understand the gene’s nature and has eight color pages of photos.

Dr. Mukherjee truly has a gift in taking complex issues and describing them in a clear entertaining fashion as well as presenting its impact on a human level. My emotions fluctuated between hopefulness at healing the afflicted and serious concern that some myopic bozo or bozos are eventually going to accidentally unleash some new horror. Any individual who has a curious mind and is not squeamish about information that might challenge their preconceived notions of how nature works will likely enjoy ‘The Gene’ and become a more enlightened individual. Like it or not, the gene is out of the bottle and there’s no going back. Cross your fingers.
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anne meinck
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
he develops an abiding interest in just what this is which has so destroyed the characters of those he loved. I thought I had settled in for a ...
Reviewed in the United States on August 27, 2017
If you are interested in genetics, but really haven''t got much of a background in the science, this is the book for you. Mukherjee begins the story relating his own family experience and the effects of a particular genetic condition which dramatically changes the lives of... See more
If you are interested in genetics, but really haven''t got much of a background in the science, this is the book for you. Mukherjee begins the story relating his own family experience and the effects of a particular genetic condition which dramatically changes the lives of those afflicted by it. As a sensitive and observant child, he develops an abiding interest in just what this is which has so destroyed the characters of those he loved. I thought I had settled in for a family saga but the story flips to a history of genetics, which is presented in such a fascinating way that I was keen to get back to it - which after all, is the benchmark of any good book. Mukerjee''s family history is not forgotten, however. We revisit it as we learn a little more about genetics generally and this serves to keep the story relevant and human.

Mind you, having just re-read the paragraph above, I have to say that even if you DO have a background in science, you will still find this book riveting in the way in holds your attention while taking us on the amazing journey which is the story of all of us. The title, "The Gene: an intimate history" says it all. We are intimately connected, not just with Mukerjee and his family but with all other humans.
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Jacqueline Coolidge
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Must-read!!!
Reviewed in the United States on November 2, 2016
This should be considered a must-read book for anyone who wants a good understanding of biology, evolution, medicine, and many important aspects of the human condition. Mukherjee is very accessible, but also rigorous. I think if I had been able to read this book when I was... See more
This should be considered a must-read book for anyone who wants a good understanding of biology, evolution, medicine, and many important aspects of the human condition. Mukherjee is very accessible, but also rigorous. I think if I had been able to read this book when I was still a young woman in high school, it would have motivated me to persevere and overcome the obstacles of crappy teachers and to stick with "real" science (as opposed to switching to the pseudo-science of economics).

Perhaps more importantly, it helped me process a recent revelation - that my beloved Dad (deceased years ago) was not my biological father. He managed to conceive my oldest sister before enlisting in the navy for WWII and being sent to New Guinea. Between the tropical diseases and cures possibly worse than the diseases, he was rendered sterile. He and my mom (as we eventually learned) were lucky to be enrolled in some of the first, very low-key experimental efforts in artificial insemination at the University of Michigan. After that, my middle sister and I were born. They never breathed a word of it. They laughed and shrugged when people commented about the lack of similarity in our family and the jokes about the milk-man and post-man. We didn''t figure it out until years after they had both died, when my insatiable curiosity impelled me to try DNA testing. So we only recently learned that my sisters were only half-sisters, that my middle-sister and I were not related to any of our cousins on our Dad''s side, and that far from being a total WASP (which I had viewed with chagrin at best and revolt at worst my whole adult life) my biological father is/was Ashkenazi.

Most of my Jewish friends (and my own husband, whose father was Jewish) were tickled and said they always thought I "must be" so. Indeed, it felt a vindication of all my impulses to disassociate myself from WASP culture, my tendencies toward being argumentative and sarcastic and restless and fidgety (all at odds with the rest of my family).

So this book helped me understand the strength (but also the limits) of genetic influences, and the complex interactions between genes and environment. I felt enriched after I had finished it.
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Mark B Gerstein
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Thoughts on Mukherjee''s the Gene: an intimate interweaving of many different strands
Reviewed in the United States on August 19, 2016
I read with great interest Siddhartha Mukherjee''s recent book The Gene: An Intimate History. This work represents a masterful weaving together, intimately, of many different strands related to the gene. First and foremost is the technical strand. Here Mukherjee goes into... See more
I read with great interest Siddhartha Mukherjee''s recent book The Gene: An Intimate History. This work represents a masterful weaving together, intimately, of many different strands related to the gene. First and foremost is the technical strand. Here Mukherjee goes into detail, explaining in simple language many key concepts behind genes. What I most liked was the discussion of the Mitochondrial Eve and the dating of populations in terms of coalescent theory and the overview of apoptosis and master regulators and how the careful tracing of cell lineages gave rise to the unintuitive idea of cell death. I also liked the account of the development of positional cloning as just a mental lightning bolt relating to what random markers on the genome connect to.

The next thread, of course, is the scientists themselves. Here we see them feuding and competing with each other. There is, of course, the famous tale of Watson and Crick versus Rosalind Franklin and how the former dynamic duo essentially stole the key concepts in "Photograph 51" from her. Then there are discussions of the rivalries of Morgan’s disciples, in particular Muller and Sturtevant, and the rivalry at the beginning of biotechnology between Boyer and Swanson in California versus Gilbert on the East Coast, racing to clone insulin and other genes.

A third strand relates to the ethical and social implications of genetics. Unfortunately the field has had quite a checkered past with eugenics beginning almost as soon as genetics. The book describes how eugenics, in a sense, set the backdrop for Nazism and the horrors of the Second World War. What is interesting is the contrast of the Nazi focus on genetic determinism with the Soviet notion, backed by their scientist Lysenko, which is diametrically opposite, that an organism could be profoundly changed by its environment. The book then goes on to discuss how we are coming into a new era of eugenics, dubbed new-genics, based on positive choice, in terms of having the genetic offspring of one''s choosing.

The final strand of the book is in a sense the most intimate: the author often digresses on his own personal history in connection to genetics, discussing in particular his family battles with schizophrenia. It is sometimes hard to see how these anecdotes relate to the science, but they do add to readability.

Overall the readability of this book is fantastic. On the one hand, it has lots of simple aphorisms that stick in one''s head. One that comes to my mind most is how Mukherjee concisely characterized the key elements of 20th Century science as the byte, the atom and the gene, putting those three concepts together in a simple phrase. Another great illustration of the book’s readability is how the author contrasts the biochemist versus the geneticist, with the first focusing on concentrating something more and the second looking for informative differences to pick something out of the crowd.

Overall I would highly recommend this book as it is a great way to soak up a lot of scientific knowledge while being exposed to other dimensions of genetics.
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Dr. Hasmukh Ajitray Buch
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A book that broadens your vision...
Reviewed in India on June 21, 2016
I liked the book-The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Being a former teacher of Human Anatomy including Genetics, I am aware of the vastness of the subject and its branches but this book covers all the important aspects in less than 600 pages. The book has...See more
I liked the book-The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Being a former teacher of Human Anatomy including Genetics, I am aware of the vastness of the subject and its branches but this book covers all the important aspects in less than 600 pages. The book has been divided into Parts and in each Part, there are several chapters; this makes convenient reading. All the parts and chapters have been thought provokingly titled. The author has meticulously avoided technical terms as the book is intended to be for the lay readers. If you are interested in the development and evolution of the subject, this is a book for you; it makes interesting reading. The author’s background has lent authenticity to the contents. He has tried to give justice to every character who contributed significantly: Aristotle, Darwin, Mendel, Morgan, Bateson, Johannsen, Galton, Garrod, Beadle and Tatum, Jacob and Monod, Watson and Crick, Khorana, McKusick, Sanger, Berg, Venter, Gurdon and Yamanaka; it is actually ‘Who is who’ of Genetics. Some new terms like previvors have been introduced and Human Genome project has been discussed in details. The narrative is so detailed and vivid that we feel that the author was personally present when and where the history (and the future) happened! I enjoyed reading accounts pertaining to Eugenics, BRCA1, Indian counter part of Nazism, sexual identity, Gay gene etc. I tend to agree with the author’s prediction- “The discontinuity of genes-the discreteness and autonomy of each individual unit of heredity-will turn out to be an illusion: genes may yet be more interconnected than we think.” That would be the end of the prevalent reductionist view of the word-Gene. A clinician is mainly concerned with what can be applied on patients in the clinic. In spite of the tremendous strides that Genetics has taken in recent years, there is not much that can be offered to the needy patients as far as the curative treatment is concerned; this is particularly true for the mental ailments (the author with several members of his family suffering from such disorders knows about this more intimately than anyone else) and the cancers. Some of the advancements are rightly facing political, social and ethical hurdles. If researches on the stem cell and gene therapy are approved wholeheartedly in due course of time, we may see more practically beneficial genetics which not only satisfy curiosity but also cures. Human Genome project has been rightly proved to be just the beginning in this direction; we are now eagerly awaiting the outcomes of Human Epigenome project and Encode. This is a book that broadens your vision whatever your background may be.
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M. Hillmann
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Comprehensive history of the gene - powerful evaluation of the future.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 10, 2017
The book begins as an intimate history of genetics but develops into the intimate future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science: the gene, the fundamental unit of hereditary and the basic unit of all biological information. The power of...See more
The book begins as an intimate history of genetics but develops into the intimate future of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science: the gene, the fundamental unit of hereditary and the basic unit of all biological information. The power of the idea can be seen today in the way personal genomics is revolutionising drug development, therapy and precision oncology – preventing and treating diseases taking into account individual variability in genes , environment and lifestyle. Genomics is being combined with Artificial Intelligence to mine vast amounts of genetic information for new clues about disease, diagnosis or treatment and combining the amazing potential in AI and genetics for opening new horizons in healthcare. Why is the idea dangerous? Because like the other two profoundly destabilising scientific ideas of the atom and the byte that richochet through the 20th century, the gene has transformed culture, society, politics and language. Mukhergee goes right back to the first steps in understanding the mechanism and influence of genes with Mendel and Darwin and roller coasters through the 20th century. The scientific progress falls into 4 stages ; the establishment of the cellular basis of heredity: the chromosomes; the molecular basis of hereditary :the double helix; the informational basis : the genetic code and sequencing of the human genome; and finally the era of genomics: the deciphering, reading and understanding the human genome and developing medical applications. He tells history is told in an extremely personal and readable way describing how scientists built on each others’ contribution with accelerating progress. The book is full of detective stories – for example how it had taken Morgan and his team three decades to collect fifty fly mutants in New England. Then one night in 1926 Muller discovered the effects of radiation and mutated half that number in a single night. Or for example, the detective work of Watson and Crick in discovering the double helix structure of DNA following the groundbreaking work of Linus Pauling, Robert Corey, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin. There is a feeling of balance in Mukhergee’s account of the race for sequencing the human genome, once Muller had discovered the way to copy a human gene in a test tube. The US National Institute of Health (NIH) was chosen as the lead agency to sequence the entire human genome with the US’s DOE and the UK’s Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust joining the effort. However a little known, pugnacious, single minded neurobiologist at the NIH, Craig Venter, proposed a shortcut to genome sequencing. James Watson and the NIH were appalled at not only at Venter’s technique but at his proposal to patent genes. Scientists at Stanford had patented methods to recombine pieces of DNA to create genetic chimeras, Genetech had patented processes to express proteins such as insulin, Amgen had filed a patent for isolation of erythropoietin using recombinant DNA but nobody had patented a gene or piece of genetic information for its own sake. The race between the US and UK’s public agencies and Craig Venter’s privately funded company Celera was on. The Wellcome Trust doubled its funding and congress threw open the slices of federal funding. But a kind of truce was struck and in 2001 the Human Genome Project and Celera both published their results of the sequencing of the human genome marking the start of the era of genomics. But the history of the gene is told not just from the angle of scientific discoveries. The social effects of the development of the genetics are explored. The history of eugenics and its misuse widely in the USA for sterilising imbeciles to improve human intelligence is shown to be based on a totally fallacious theory of hereditary. The Nazi eugenic experiments and the holocaust gruesomely exposed the danger of false science. The Asilomar meeting in 1973 of leading virologists, genetiscists, biochemists and microbiologists addressed the growing concerns about gene – manipulation techniques. Asilomar II in 1975 got unanimous support for ranking the biohazard risks of genetic recombination. This has resulted until recently in three unspoken principles which guide the arena of genetic diagnosis and intervention. Firstly diagnostic tests have been restricted to gene variants that are singularly powerful determinants of illness – for examplehighly penetrant mutations like Downs syndrome and cystic fibrosis. Secondly, the diseases caused by these mutations have generally involved extraordinary suffering. Thirdly justifiable interventions have been defined by social and medical consensus, and all interventions have been governed by complete freedom of choice. But these boundaries could be loosening from these originals - of high penetrance genes, extraordinary suffering and justifiable interventions - to genotype-driven social engineering. Mukherjee provides examples of genetic diagnosis being transformed into clinical and personal realities. Individuals are inspired to get our personal human genome mapped which could lead to determining genetic fitness. Individuals are not so easily governed by guiding principles. Evidence of the influence this book has had on me is that I have now set out to get my personal genome sequenced!
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norwich
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
thought provoking
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 10, 2019
I enjoyed the ''Emperor of all maladies'' book from this author, so I was keen to read this new tome as well. I was not disappointed. His prose is engaging and his reports of some of the genetics luminaries are amusing (I wish I had someone like him as my Genetics professor...See more
I enjoyed the ''Emperor of all maladies'' book from this author, so I was keen to read this new tome as well. I was not disappointed. His prose is engaging and his reports of some of the genetics luminaries are amusing (I wish I had someone like him as my Genetics professor at Uni). Most importantly, the concepts arising from genetic research and technology are explained in a way that is understandable by the vast majority of the public. For me the last chapters are particularly stimulating and thought provoking. a must read!
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Amazonian Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Awe-inspiring and fascinating popular science story
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 14, 2018
The Gene: An Intimate History is an epic story of how we have come to understand some of the fundamental building blocks of life on earth. From Mendel growing his peas via Darwin and the origin of species, eugenics and the Nazis, Crick and Watson discovering the double...See more
The Gene: An Intimate History is an epic story of how we have come to understand some of the fundamental building blocks of life on earth. From Mendel growing his peas via Darwin and the origin of species, eugenics and the Nazis, Crick and Watson discovering the double helix structure of DNA to the tantalising prospects of genome enhancement, Siddhartha Mukherjee takes us comprehensively through the whole history. It''s a complex subject, but the writing is just the right level for someone (like me) with no biology or chemistry background at all to understand. He also covers the moral and ethical aspects of some of the research as well as the science. There''s a lot to it, and it does take a while to read, but it''s such a fascinating tale that it''s well worth the effort. Awe-inspiring and downright mind-boggling in places, if popular science is your thing then you won''t want to miss this one.
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Professor Brian D Smith
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Quite, quite marvellous
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 28, 2016
I''m not one to give praise too freely. I''m an author and scientist (in a different field) and a critical reader by disposition and training. This book, however, deserves the highest praise. It''s a masterpiece. The science is pitched perfectly for a layman. The history is...See more
I''m not one to give praise too freely. I''m an author and scientist (in a different field) and a critical reader by disposition and training. This book, however, deserves the highest praise. It''s a masterpiece. The science is pitched perfectly for a layman. The history is enthralling. The two are woven together in a beautiful, thoughtful way. I would make this book required reading for everyone. Bravo Mr Mukherjee.
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