From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies—a 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?
Mukherjee has a gift for making gripping, vivid narrative out of the cataclysmic but largely invisible drama of molecular biology. There’s something both comic and poignant in watching generations of fallible, eccentric geniuses try to peer into their own cells and puzzle out the codes that made them that way.
The Gene has its own elegant, twisting structure, in which evidence is suspended between the spines of history and science. It never pretends to ingenuousness; indeed, one is often tempted to give the author an A for visible effort. But with a marriage of architectural precision and luscious narrative, an eye for both the paradoxical detail and the unsettling irony, and a genius for locating the emotional truths buried in chemical abstractions, Mukherjee leaves you feeling as though you’ve just aced a college course for which you’d been afraid to register — and enjoyed every minute of it.
Many of the same qualities that made The Emperor of All Maladies so pleasurable are in full bloom in The Gene. The book is compassionate, tautly synthesized, packed with unfamiliar details about familiar people (Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, used to rank the beauty of women on the street by 'using pinpricks on a card hidden in his pocket.' Ick.) But there are also crucial differences. Cancer is the troll that scratches and thumps beneath the floorboards of our consciousness, if it hasn’t already beaten its way into the room ... There are far fewer psychological stakes in reading about the history of genetics.