The Gene: An Intimate History

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THE GENE: An Intimate History, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s follow-up to the bestselling, Pulitzer-winning The Emperor of All Maladies, is the story of the quest to decipher the master-code of instructions that makes and defines humans, that governs our form, function, and fate and determines the future of our children.

From Siddhartha Mukherjee the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies—a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?

Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.

Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family—with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness—cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, 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.

As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome, The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.

Praise

Praise

Dramatic and precise… [A] thrilling and comprehensive account of what seems certain to be the most radical, controversial and, to borrow from the subtitle, intimate science of our time… He is a natural storyteller… A page-turner… Read this book and steel yourself for what comes next

Bryan AppleyardSunday Times

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 SolomonWashington Post

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

Abigail ZugerNew York Times

His sweeping and compellingly told history – and there is no more accessible and vivid survey available – is about hubristic ambition as much as stunning achievement

[Mukherjee] never lets readers forget the social, cultural, and ethical implications of genetics research. . . . [He] provides vivid portraits of the principle players and enough accessible scientific information to bring general readers into the process of genetic lab science. Sober, humbling, and extraordinarily rich reading from a wise and gifted writer who sees how far we have come—but how much farther we have to go to understand our human nature and destiny.

(Kirkus, starred)

In skillful prose, Mukherjee . . . relates the grand tale of how scientists have come to understand the role genes play in human development, behavior, and physiology. . . . Deft . . . . Mukherjee grounds the abstract in the personal to add power and poignancy to his excellent narrative.

(Publishers Weekly, starred)

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.

(Booklist, starred)

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, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See

The story […] has been told, piecemeal, in different ways, but never before with the scope and grandeur that Siddhartha Mukherjee brings to his new history, The Gene. He fully justifies the claim that it is “one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science.” … Definitive

James GleickNew York Times Book Review

[Mukherjee] has again succeeded in bringing complex science to life through elegant writing and vivid storytelling

Andrew WardFinancial Times

If you want to know what is happening now, this is an essential read

Simon Griffith, Mail on Sunday

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

The book is compassionate, tautly synthesized… A page-turner

Jennifer SeniorNew York Times

It’s unlikely that you’ll find a better guide… His book opens up the space for a new dialogue about the influence of our genes on our selves, and in doing so it becomes not just first-class science writing but an important intellectual contribution in its own right

Philip BallProspect

A sweeping history of genetics.

Cassandra Willyard, Vice

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 McKieObserver

[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 McCarthyUSA Today

Inspiring and tremendously evocative reading… Both expansive and accessible, a breezily written manual to the potent little “unit of inheritance” that helps make us who we are… A rich, occasionally whimsical book

-San Francisco Chronicle

Visceral and thought-provoking descriptions of the horrors of early-twentieth-century US eugenics

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

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

A fascinating read

-Hugh Jackman

The Gene is – like Sapiens – wonderfully diverse in its reach, taking in history, memoir, a dash of Shakespeare and dozens of illuminating stories and case studies…. One of those special kind of books that makes you feel erudite and entertained at the same time

Caroline Sanderson, Book of the Month, The Bookseller

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 BortzDallas Morning News

The Gene’s dominant traits are historical breadth, clinical compassion, and Mukherjee’s characteristic graceful style.

Nathaniel ComfortThe Atlantic

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 GwinnSeattle Times

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 KrallSteamboat Today

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 HigginsMilwaukee Journal-Sentinel

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 CainMinneapolis Star-Tribune

Mukherjee inspires both awe at how thoroughly genetics allows us to understand our own bodies and selves and wariness at the moral risks inherent in the literally life-changing abilities the field has introduced.

Clara MoskowitzScientific American

Excerpt