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Reviews for The Gene: An Intimate History

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A panoramic history of the gene and how genetics "resonate[s] far beyond the realms of science." Mukherjee (Medicine/Columbia Univ.; The Laws of Medicine, 2015, etc.), who won the Pulitzer Prize for his history of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies (2010), begins with Mendel and his "pea-flower garden," and he never lets readers forget the social, cultural, and ethical implications of genetics research. Indeed, he dedicates the book to his grandmother, who raised two mentally ill children, and to Carrie Buck, the Virginia woman judged "feeble-minded" and sterilized according to eugenics laws passed in the 1920s. After Mendel, Mukherjee describes Thomas Morgan's fruit fly studies in the 1900s, and he goes on to trace the steps leading to the discovery of the double helix, the deciphering of the genetic code, and the technological advances that have created ethical dilemmas. Early on, there was recombinant DNA, the insertion of genes from one species into another, and this led to mandates initially proscribing certain experiments. Then, there were the first disastrous attempts at gene therapy, which consisted of arrogant and sloppy science. Meanwhile, the human genome has been mapped, more and more genes have been associated with certain diseases (and even behaviors), and a new technique has been developed that permits the removing or replacing of specific genetic defects. Are we ready to apply that to an individual patient? Should it apply to sperm and egg cells so as to affect future generations? Mukherjee ponders these issues in the final chapters and epilogue, ultimately seeing the need for more research about the information coded in the human genome, since so much of it does not consist of genes. Throughout, the author provides vivid portraits of the principal players and enough accessible scientific information to bring general readers into the process of genetic lab science. Sobering, humbling, and extraordinarily rich reading from a wise and gifted writer who sees how far we have comebut how much farther we have to go to understand our human nature and destiny. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* How do you take the basic building block of humanity and explore the towering edifices and entire disciplines it has fostered over the years since the gene or at least the idea of it first became known to man? If you're Mukherjee (The Laws of Medicine, 2015), a Pulitzer-winning writer and physician, you distill the ideas down to something relatable, in this case, family. A cousin relegated to a mental institution in India because of schizophrenia leads Mukherjee into an astute and detailed exploration of the many facets of the gene. Comparisons to Mukherjee's prizewinning biography of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies (2010), are bound to be made, especially since the author himself shares that he wanted to illuminate what normalcy looks like before a cell tips into malignancy. The sheer panorama of topics covered from Mendel's experiments to Darwin, eugenics, the Human Genome Project, and cloning, as he dissects each and every aspect of the gene can get dizzying, and the periodic allusions to Mukherjee's family can feel belabored. But there is no doubt that this compelling volume will be the last word on the subject, at least until the next breakthrough in this endlessly fascinating field of science. Highly recommended. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Following Ken Burns' documentary film based on his book about cancer, Mukherjee remains in the spotlight as a top medical writer, and his ambitious new book will be strongly promoted with a national tour and media campaign.--Apte, Poornima Copyright 2016 Booklist


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The development of the concept of the gene as the primary unit of heredity is comparable in terms of impact and importance to that of the atom and the byte to physics and information science, respectively, argues Mukherjee (medicine, Columbia Univ.; The Emperor of All Maladies). The author traces the history of the gene from Gregor Mendel's 19th-century pea pod experiments to the approval, in the UK, of the creation of a three-parent embryo in 2015 (egg from one mother, mitochondria from another, and sperm from a father). In graceful prose, -Mukherjee combines lucid explanations of scientific concepts with the social and cultural developments at each phase in human understanding of genetics. His analogy of the atom is particularly apropos: that -understanding has led to both the atomic bomb and significant energy sources and scientific breakthroughs, while increasing knowledge of heredity and genes has eugenics and Nazi extermination plans marching lockstep with synthetic insulin and potential cancer therapies. VERDICT This highly accessible and thoughtful volume on a cornerstone of modern biology will have broad appeal, amplified by the success of Mukherjee's previous work.-Evan M. Anderson, Kirkendall P.L., Ankeny, IA Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Mukherjee (medicine, Columbia Univ.) develops an intricate, detailed story describing the history of the modern concept of the gene. As a unit of genetic material and the central element of ancestral information, genes represent familial relationships, the product of evolutionary change, and a target for modern biopharmaceuticals. This work begins in the 1850s with Mendel and Darwin and then moves through the early 1900s with mutant analysis in Thomas Morgan's fruit flies, the 1950s Watson and Crick discovery of DNA structure, and the birth of biotechnology at Genentech in the 1980s. The discussion finishes in the modern era, with the current explorations in human heredity, the human genome sequence, and the puzzling role of epigenetics. Using personal and historical anecdotes, the creative story explores the personalities and challenges of the major players and their discoveries, framed by the culture and collaborations in which these individuals worked. Without revisiting the science in depth, Mukherjee compiles a compelling, surprisingly comprehensive narrative with broad appeal. The lively writing style is peppered with intentional puns and popular culture throughout, and the text is thoroughly footnoted and indexed. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. --Dale L. Beach, Longwood University


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Veteran voice actor Boutsikaris's talents are on full display in the audio edition of the latest from oncologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mukherjee. He uses vocal flexibility to stress phrases, words, and even syllables to illuminate the grand tale of how scientists have come to understand the role genes play in human development, behavior, and physiology. Boutsikaris has such control of grammatical structure that every sentence, no matter the length, is clear, and he includes frequent transitional pauses that help the listener retain focus all the way through Mukherjee's complex but fascinating narrative, chronicling breakthroughs in the quest to understand human heredity, from the work of Darwin and Mendel to current research in the field of genetics. A Scribner hardcover. (May) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

People have long wondered how it is that traits of parents are passed to their offspring. Aristotle suggested that in sexual reproduction, sperm contained the "message" to create new life while the uterus provided the material. Some medieval scholars believed sperm held complete bodies in miniature that required females only for gestation. But it was not until Gregor Mendel's famed experiments with peas and Darwin's work on evolution that the gene emerged as the "unit of heredity." Interweaving personal stories of his own family's genetic legacy, physician and historian Mukherjee (The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer) brilliantly follows the scientists and breakthroughs that brought the gene from a vague concept to a distinctly explicated chemical compound with vast, often controversial ethical and commercial implications. Especially noteworthy is his exploration of the Human Genome Project and the enormous potential of genetic manipulation. Dennis Boutsikaris does a stellar job communicating occasionally complex concepts. VERDICT Highly recommended for listeners with an interest in biology, genetics, or the history of science. ["This highly accessible and thoughtful volume on a cornerstone of modern biology will have broad appeal": LJ 4/1/16 starred review of the Scribner hc.]-Forrest Link, Coll. of New Jersey Lib., Ewing Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In skillful prose, Mukherjee, an oncologist and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies, relates the grand tale of how scientists have come to understand the role genes play in human development, behavior, and physiology. He deftly relates the basic scientific facts about the way genes are believed to function, while making clear the aspects of genetics that remain unknown. Mukherjee offers insight into both the scientific process and the sociology of science, exploring the crucial experiments that have shed light on the biochemical complexities inherent in the genome. He also examines many of the philosophical and moral quandaries that have long swirled around the study of genetics, addressing such important topics as eugenics, stem cell research, and what it means to use the composition of a person's genotype to make predictions about his or her health or behavior. Looking to the future, Mukherjee addresses prospects for medical advances in the treatment of diseases and in selecting-or actively crafting-the genetic composition of offspring, regularly pointing out the pressing ethical considerations. Throughout, he repeatedly poses the question, "What is 'natural'?" declining to offer a single answer, in recognition that both context and change are essential. By relating familial information, Mukherjee grounds the abstract in the personal to add power and poignancy to his excellent narrative. (May) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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