Reviews for The Gene: An Intimate History

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

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

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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