Review of “The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

Mukherjee takes the reader through the history of the science of genetics, beginning with Aristotle’s observation that progeny resembled their progenitors more than strangers, jumping to Gregor Mendel’s experiments with peas, and taking us up to the present, where science has not only identified DNA and RNA, but has developed exotic techniques like gene splicing and introducing genes across species.

Mukherjee personalizes the presentation by interposing a discussion of how heredity affects his own family, which has a history of mental illness.

Mukherjee also tackles the important subject of the sociological uses of gene science, from eugenics to race theory. He does an excellent job of discussing the thorny moral and legal issues presented by the power to alter real human beings by manipulating their genotypes. He recounts the horrific repercussions of such applications, including forced sterilization and genocide, and debunks theories that there are significant differences between groups that humans classify as “races.”

One really has to pay attention while reading this book or the ideas presented will just whoosh by without being understood. Along with “dense,” I would add the adjectives learned, literate, comprehensive, historical, personal, and intimate. It’s really quite good, and well worth the effort to understand it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published in hardback by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, 2016

A Few Notes on the Audio Production:

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris, who has won quite a few awards for his reading. He did an excellent job.

Published unabridged on 16 CDs (19.5 listening hours) by Audioworks, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, 2016

Author Siddhartha Mukherjee

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About rhapsodyinbooks

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2 Responses to Review of “The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by genetics but am probably not smart enough for this book.

  2. Beth F says:

    As a former geneticist I’m a little ashamed I haven’t read this yet. Maybe I’ll do the audio.

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