The Gene: An Intimate History (Hardcover)

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In 2010, Siddhartha Mukherjee completed the final draft of “The Emperor of All Maladies,” the brilliant, exhaustive, award-winning “biography” of cancer, and thought, as he writes in his acknowledgements in “The Gene: An Intimate History,” “I (will) never lift a pen to write another book.”

Fortunately for us, he was wrong. A search for his family’s identity and an explanation for the mental illness that struck his father’s brothers led him to write “The Gene,” and we are the better for it.

“The Gene” tells the history of the concept of a “gene,” a factor responsible for variants in generational expression (think long or twisted pea pods or blue or brown eyes) all the way to the molecular structure we call genes — discrete segments of DNA, which, when transcribed in our cells, create proteins responsible for specific functions. Mukherjee traces the concept back to Aristotelian ideas of “likeness,” even as he begins his account with Mendel and Darwin.

This is an intimate history. He doesn’t just recount the discoveries — the science of the gene; he tells us about the persons who made these discoveries. We learn that Mendel couldn’t pass the test to become a teacher, meaning he had the time and opportunity to meticulously breed his peas. We learn that Thomas Morgan, a Nobel prize-winning scientist who first recognized “gene linkage,” (certain genes seem to be “linked” to one another and inherited together) thought in 1934 that genetics had made only an “intellectual” contribution to medicine.

This is a meticulous history. For those interested in the molecular biology — the chemistry of genes — Mukherjee carefully proceeds from Crick and Watson’s remarkably clever discovery of the DNA double helix through the recognition of the code embedded in DNA, to the transcription of that code to RNA and proteins, to the sequence of the entire 3 billion nucleic acids and 21,000 genes of human DNA, to Jennifer Doudna’s discovery of CRISPR, which has made gene “editing” — precise, specific changes to DNA — not only possible, but also efficient, fast and inexpensive enough to have spawned nearly 10 start-up companies in only two years.
This is a provocative history. Mukherjee does not shy away from the questions about what we might do, can do and should do now that we can change human DNA. On the one hand, we have opened a very specific set of doors to treating disease. On the other is another set of doors that promise to eliminate not only what we think of as disease, but also to challenge what we accept as “normal,” doors that could determine who we are — tall or short, happy or sad, straight or gay.

Most of all, this is a readable history. One need not be a molecular biologist to follow Mukherjee’s account; in fact, molecular biologists would be disappointed in the lack of scientific detail were it not for the nearly hundred pages of endnotes and references.

“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.

— From Book review: Upcoming book offers meticulous, “intimate” look at genetics

Description


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).

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

 

Praise For…


"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


Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9781476733500
ISBN-10: 1476733503
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: May 17th, 2016
Pages: 608
Language: English