The Gene: An Intimate History Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Audible Audiobook, Unabridged
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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?
2017 Audie Award Finalist for Non-Fiction
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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|Listening Length||19 hours and 22 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||May 17, 2016|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #6,321 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#5 in Genetics (Audible Books & Originals)
#12 in Medicine History & Commentary
#20 in Genetics (Books)
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Top reviews from the United States
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The great aspect of the book is that it weaves together and conceptualizes all the bits of genetics we remember from high school biology and various articles and books we have read over the decades. The author is very good at this. The book can give you an excellent basic understanding of the topic.
1. The author attempts to weave personal family stories into the book and relate them to genetics. The stories are not interesting and are not tied into the narrative well. Fortunately, it is very easy to skip these sections. You lose nothing in your understanding if you just skip them.
2. Every time a sensitive topic comes up like eugenics, the author puts in a great deal of effort in virtue signaling about being on the right side of the topic. The endless condemning of Nazis is not really necessary. We kind of assume the author is not an admirer of Nazis. The author goes into a long straw man argument attempting to debunk "The Bell Curve" and then restates the primary thesis of the book as established fact. It looked like he had never read the book, but needed to condemn it so he could stay in academic good graces.
3. The later parts of the book fall short as the author gets into very recent technology. The early historical narratives are excellent. The later chapters lack quality and clarity.
All in all, a very worthwhile book and I have not seen anything that would provide a better history. Read the book, just be aware that there are flaws.
Somehow, the reader is expected to believe that a great many aspects of human life are heritable (to a greater or lesser extent), but anything PC is not. To be fair that is not really the author’s position (in all cases). The dominant view of sexual preference (homosexuality) is that it is at least partially genetic. The gay community and the author embrace at least partial genetic determinism in this case (sexual preference) and the evidence supporting this view is quite strong. Of course, in this case, genetic determinism (partial) and PC are aligned making the author’s take rather easy. In this context the author mocks (quite rightfully) the opinions of Lewontin.
“There is no acceptable evidence that homosexuality has any genetic basis. . . . The story has been manufactured out of whole cloth,” Lewontin wrote.
The author also argues that sex is real and sex and gender are inseparable in most (but not all cases). The tragic tale of David Reimer shows up, along with a (highly justified) denunciation of the abominable Dr. John Money. Quote from the book
“These case reports finally put to rest the assumption, still unshakably prevalent in some circles, that gender identity can be created or programmed entirely, or even substantially, by training, suggestion, behavioral enforcement, social performance, or cultural interventions. It is now clear that genes are vastly more influential than virtually any other force in shaping sex identity and gender identity”
The author also argues that race is real and has a genetic basis. This is the scientific consensus, even if the “non-existence of race” is the rigidly enforced PC dogma of our time. Conversely, the author argues that “race is only skin deep”. This may or may not be true. Quote
“Yet, even a young species possesses history. One of the most penetrating powers of genomics is its ability to organize even closely related genomes into classes and subclasses. If we go hunting for discriminatory features and clusters, then we will, indeed, find features and clusters to discriminate. Examined carefully, the variations in the human genome will cluster in geographic regions and continents, and along traditional boundaries of race. Every genome bears the mark of its ancestry. By studying the genetic characteristics of an individual you can pinpoint his or her origin to a certain continent, nationality, state, or even a tribe with remarkable accuracy. It is, to be sure, an apotheosis of small differences—but if this is what we mean by “race,” then the concept has not just survived the genomic era, it has been amplified by it.”
The author invokes Lewontin to defend his ideas about genetics and race. Of course, this is the same Lewontin whom the author mocks with respect to homosexuality.
The author goes to some pains to denounce eugenics, Nazi and otherwise. Reading the book, you would never know that the most prominent advocates of eugenics (in the UK and perhaps the US) were left-wing socialists. For example, Sidney Webb was a prominent far-left political figure who devoted much of his later life to promoting the Soviet Union. The list of left-wing eugenicists is rather long and includes George Bernard Shaw, William Beveridge, Marie Stopes (the UK version of Margaret Sanger who was also a eugenicist), Harold Laski, Haldane (a Marxist), and of course, John Maynard Keynes (not a Marxist).
To the author’s credit, the modern revival of eugenics (via prenatal testing and selective abortion) is covered in detail, with the troubling echoes of the past heard well. A more subtle point (unmentioned by the author) is that institutionalized populations are (these days) deliberately isolated to prevent sexual relationships. In a bygone era, the “unfit” were sterilized, now that kept behind walls and barbed wire.
Top reviews from other countries
The author has meticulously avoided technical terms as the book is intended to be for the lay readers. If you are interested in the development and evolution of the subject, this is a book for you; it makes interesting reading. The author’s background has lent authenticity to the contents. He has tried to give justice to every character who contributed significantly: Aristotle, Darwin, Mendel, Morgan, Bateson, Johannsen, Galton, Garrod, Beadle and Tatum, Jacob and Monod, Watson and Crick, Khorana, McKusick, Sanger, Berg, Venter, Gurdon and Yamanaka; it is actually ‘Who is who’ of Genetics. Some new terms like previvors have been introduced and Human Genome project has been discussed in details.
The narrative is so detailed and vivid that we feel that the author was personally present when and where the history (and the future) happened! I enjoyed reading accounts pertaining to Eugenics, BRCA1, Indian counter part of Nazism, sexual identity, Gay gene etc. I tend to agree with the author’s prediction- “The discontinuity of genes-the discreteness and autonomy of each individual unit of heredity-will turn out to be an illusion: genes may yet be more interconnected than we think.” That would be the end of the prevalent reductionist view of the word-Gene.
A clinician is mainly concerned with what can be applied on patients in the clinic. In spite of the tremendous strides that Genetics has taken in recent years, there is not much that can be offered to the needy patients as far as the curative treatment is concerned; this is particularly true for the mental ailments (the author with several members of his family suffering from such disorders knows about this more intimately than anyone else) and the cancers. Some of the advancements are rightly facing political, social and ethical hurdles. If researches on the stem cell and gene therapy are approved wholeheartedly in due course of time, we may see more practically beneficial genetics which not only satisfy curiosity but also cures. Human Genome project has been rightly proved to be just the beginning in this direction; we are now eagerly awaiting the outcomes of Human Epigenome project and Encode. This is a book that broadens your vision whatever your background may be.
The power of the idea can be seen today in the way personal genomics is revolutionising drug development, therapy and precision oncology – preventing and treating diseases taking into account individual variability in genes , environment and lifestyle. Genomics is being combined with Artificial Intelligence to mine vast amounts of genetic information for new clues about disease, diagnosis or treatment and combining the amazing potential in AI and genetics for opening new horizons in healthcare.
Why is the idea dangerous? Because like the other two profoundly destabilising scientific ideas of the atom and the byte that richochet through the 20th century, the gene has transformed culture, society, politics and language.
Mukhergee goes right back to the first steps in understanding the mechanism and influence of genes with Mendel and Darwin and roller coasters through the 20th century. The scientific progress falls into 4 stages ; the establishment of the cellular basis of heredity: the chromosomes; the molecular basis of hereditary :the double helix; the informational basis : the genetic code and sequencing of the human genome; and finally the era of genomics: the deciphering, reading and understanding the human genome and developing medical applications.
He tells history is told in an extremely personal and readable way describing how scientists built on each others’ contribution with accelerating progress. The book is full of detective stories – for example how it had taken Morgan and his team three decades to collect fifty fly mutants in New England. Then one night in 1926 Muller discovered the effects of radiation and mutated half that number in a single night. Or for example, the detective work of Watson and Crick in discovering the double helix structure of DNA following the groundbreaking work of Linus Pauling, Robert Corey, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin.
There is a feeling of balance in Mukhergee’s account of the race for sequencing the human genome, once Muller had discovered the way to copy a human gene in a test tube. The US National Institute of Health (NIH) was chosen as the lead agency to sequence the entire human genome with the US’s DOE and the UK’s Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust joining the effort. However a little known, pugnacious, single minded neurobiologist at the NIH, Craig Venter, proposed a shortcut to genome sequencing. James Watson and the NIH were appalled at not only at Venter’s technique but at his proposal to patent genes. Scientists at Stanford had patented methods to recombine pieces of DNA to create genetic chimeras, Genetech had patented processes to express proteins such as insulin, Amgen had filed a patent for isolation of erythropoietin using recombinant DNA but nobody had patented a gene or piece of genetic information for its own sake. The race between the US and UK’s public agencies and Craig Venter’s privately funded company Celera was on. The Wellcome Trust doubled its funding and congress threw open the slices of federal funding. But a kind of truce was struck and in 2001 the Human Genome Project and Celera both published their results of the sequencing of the human genome marking the start of the era of genomics.
But the history of the gene is told not just from the angle of scientific discoveries. The social effects of the development of the genetics are explored.
The history of eugenics and its misuse widely in the USA for sterilising imbeciles to improve human intelligence is shown to be based on a totally fallacious theory of hereditary. The Nazi eugenic experiments and the holocaust gruesomely exposed the danger of false science.
The Asilomar meeting in 1973 of leading virologists, genetiscists, biochemists and microbiologists addressed the growing concerns about gene – manipulation techniques. Asilomar II in 1975 got unanimous support for ranking the biohazard risks of genetic recombination.
This has resulted until recently in three unspoken principles which guide the arena of genetic diagnosis and intervention. Firstly diagnostic tests have been restricted to gene variants that are singularly powerful determinants of illness – for examplehighly penetrant mutations like Downs syndrome and cystic fibrosis. Secondly, the diseases caused by these mutations have generally involved extraordinary suffering. Thirdly justifiable interventions have been defined by social and medical consensus, and all interventions have been governed by complete freedom of choice.
But these boundaries could be loosening from these originals - of high penetrance genes, extraordinary suffering and justifiable interventions - to genotype-driven social engineering. Mukherjee provides examples of genetic diagnosis being transformed into clinical and personal realities. Individuals are inspired to get our personal human genome mapped which could lead to determining genetic fitness. Individuals are not so easily governed by guiding principles.
Evidence of the influence this book has had on me is that I have now set out to get my personal genome sequenced!
It's a complex subject, but the writing is just the right level for someone (like me) with no biology or chemistry background at all to understand. He also covers the moral and ethical aspects of some of the research as well as the science. There's a lot to it, and it does take a while to read, but it's such a fascinating tale that it's well worth the effort.
Awe-inspiring and downright mind-boggling in places, if popular science is your thing then you won't want to miss this one.