The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Gene: An Intimate History – THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post and Seattle Times Best Book of the Year
From 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.
An Amazon Best Book of May 2016: 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 The Gene: An Intimate History
“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 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. . . . 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)
More about the author
Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at the CU/NYU Presbytarian Hospital. A former Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford (where he received a PhD studying cancer-causing viruses) and from Harvard Medical School. His laboratory focuses on discovering new cancer drugs using innovative biological methods. Mukherjee trained in cancer medicine at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute of Harvard Medical School and was on the staff at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He has published articles and commentary in such journals as Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, Neuron and the Journal of Clinical Investigation and in publications such as the New York Times and the New Republic. His work was nominated for Best American Science Writing, 2000 (edited by James Gleick). He lives in Boston and New York with his wife, Sarah Sze, an artist, and with his daughter, Leela.