The Gene

  • by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris
  • 19 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling 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?
The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has 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 Thomas Morgan to Crick, Watson, and Rosa Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary 21st-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."
A 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-listen for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.

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What the Critics Say

"Narrator Dennis Boutsikaris captures the passion that fueled the extensive research involved and makes Mukherjee's sharing of his family's medical history more personable and important. With a reflective tone that is never pretentious or dull, a thorough profile of the gene is formally presented." (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

It's a Wonderful Book

Siddhartha Mukherjee writes about the life sciences the way Stephen Jay Gould wrote about paleontology and I mean that as the highest sort of compliment. Mukherjee, like Gould, is a credentialed scientist who in spite of the intellectual discipline imposed by his career has retained the ability to mesmerize lay audiences with the complexity and beauty of his science.

Mukherjee has a unique way of explaining scientific concepts by recounting the history of their discovery, and the biographies of the scientists who discovered them. He humanizes abstract ideas with concrete case histories, events, even gossip about the controversies that raged between investigators who furthered the science.

Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies” was a monumental work, as staggering as Gould’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I found “The Gene” slightly less compelling for the simple reason that the early chapters of the story – Darwin’s theory of evolution, Mendel’s peas, Morgan’s fruit flies, Crick and Watson’s table top model of the DNA molecule – were already familiar to me. Mukherjee is building on work that has been reported in masterpieces of scientific exposition, and the first few chapters will be a sort of recapitulation for those who have read “The Origin of the Species” and “The Double Helix”, etc.

Once the book reaches the modern age of genetics, the period since Crick and Watson’s 1953 paper on the structure of DNA, the science is relatively unknown to me, and Mukherjee introduces a world of scientists, entrepreneurs, maladies and big ideas of which I previously had no inkling. He describes them with his typically engaging style and clarity. And - this is what makes Mukherjee a great science writer - his humanistic, philosophical take on what this new science means about who we humans are.

In sum – you gotta read this book. Not just to get up to speed on one of the fastest evolving fields in science, but to enjoy learning from one of the world’s best science writers.
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- Clodhopper

Scientific history blended with humanity

What made the experience of listening to The Gene the most enjoyable?

Mukherjee is a masterful educator and story-teller. He does the yeoman's work of taking complex scientific topics and explaining them so that almost any reader can understand (or at least take the first step of understanding).


What did you like best about this story?

I liked that he always interspersed the science with humanity - he discussed the impact on people of various discoveries and their power to both help and harm people.


Any additional comments?

Mukherjee does it again, taking a complex and nuanced scientific history, meticulously explaining it as simply as possible (but no simpler), and infusing it with human stories and reactions and impacts. He distills the incredible story of genetics -- its discovery, our efforts to understand it, the way it has been used and misused, and what it might mean for our human or transhuman future -- into a thoroughly engaging book that bring you up to speed on the state of genetics and what they may mean for humanity's future. Mukherjee, though, goes one step further in making the book even more personal - he discusses at length mental health issues in his paternal family and what might be lurking in his own genome, his own thoughts about whether he would want to be tested for such genes (if/when mental health genes are identified), and whether such identification would lead to more empathy or new forms of discrimination. In the end, Mukherjee does what he did in Emperor of all Maladies in discussing cancer, he takes a broad and complex issue that touches every human and reveals it in language and nuance, leaving the reader both educated and emotionally altered.

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- S. Yates

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-17-2016
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio