The Gene

An intimate history

By Siddhartha Mukherjee

Genetics, History of Science, Medicine

Non-Fiction

Published by The Bodley Head

Shortlist 2017

The story of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in our history, from bestselling, prize-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee.

‘The Gene’ is an epic, moving history of a scientific idea coming to life. But woven through it, like a red line, is also an intimate history – the story of Mukherjee’s own family and its recurring pattern of mental illness, reminding us that genetics is vitally relevant to everyday lives. These concerns reverberate even more urgently today as we learn to ‘read’ and ‘write’ the human genome – unleashing the potential to change the fates and identities of our children.

The story of the gene begins in an obscure Augustinian abbey in Moravia in 1856, where a monk stumbles on the idea of a ‘unit of heredity’. It intersects with Darwin’s theory of evolution, and collides with the horrors of Nazi eugenics in the 1940s. The gene transforms postwar biology. It reorganises our understanding of sexuality, temperament, choice and free will. This is a story driven by human ingenuity and obsessive minds – from Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel to Francis Crick, James Watson and Rosalind Franklin, and the thousands of scientists still working to understand the code of codes.

‘The Gene’ gives us a definitive account of the fundamental unit of heredity – and a vision of both humanity’s past and future.

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