cover image The Gene: An Intimate History

The Gene: An Intimate History

Siddhartha Mukherjee. Scribner, $30 (592p) ISBN 978-1-4767-3350-0

In skillful prose, Mukherjee, an oncologist and the Pulitzer Prize%E2%80%93winning 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%E2%80%94or actively crafting%E2%80%94the genetic composition of offspring, regularly pointing out the pressing ethical considerations. Throughout, he repeatedly poses the question, "What is %E2%80%98natural'?" 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)