*** The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Gene: An Intimate History is a masterful summary of the history of genetics, delicately tied together by the sad  history of mental illness in the author’s family.

Although parts of the history of genetics are well known (including the sad story of Carrie Buck at the height of the eugenics movement) the author injects small and delightful details. I did not know that Mendel failed his teacher-certification exam, for instance. Or that 901 mice had their tails excised in an effort to prove that acquired characteristics could not be passed on (poor mice, it seems so obvious today, thanks to them).

The last few chapters discuss, carefully, gene therapy and its risks, making it very clear that, since genes rarely equal diseases, it’s a delicate business and not the simple matching game that we wish it were.



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