The Gene

  • by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris
  • 19 hrs and 27 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The Gene is the story of one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in our history, from best-selling, prize-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Spanning the globe and several centuries, The Gene is the story of the quest to decipher the master code that makes and defines humans, that governs our form and function.
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 freewill. 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.
This is an epic, moving history of a scientific idea coming to life by the author of The Emperor of All Maladies. But woven through The Gene 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.
Majestic in its ambition and unflinching in its honesty, The Gene gives us a definitive account of the fundamental unit of heredity - and a vision of both humanity's past and its future.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

20 hours very well spent

I hesitated for almost a year before plunging into this book as it looked rather intimidating. Don't hesitate - this is really worth listening to NOW. Mukherjee uses 'Gene' as the title, because the Gene is the central idea, but he points out that the Gene is to biology what the Atom is to Physics and the Bit or Byte to computer science or IT. Meaning that the book is really the history of biology, or more importantly of how we have come to understand our own selves at a molecular level, and actually got to the point where we can tinker with our own blue-print. I have this crazy image in my head of a grinning tin robot holding a shiny new spanner, lifting up the lid of her metal cranium and poking inside, meanwhile saying 'I have this idea that I have a screw loose, and I think I can probably fix it with this new spanner.' That is about the position of the human race at this point in time. The spanner is gene editing technology. Mukherjee explains very clearly the opportunities and risks, it's both scary and exciting.

I'll mention one other thing. It is very hard to understand how difficult it is to discover things. For example, Darwin almost had a nervous breakdown trying to understand how characteristics could be both accurately passed down generations and yet also create variation. How hereditary particles could behave like paints (which blend) and yet preserve distinct variations. In terms of logic, Heredity seems to behave like 'X' and 'not X' at the same time. Similarly scientists were all circling around DNA for ages before they finally landed on the double helix. Mukherjee has a genius for making it clear how hard it is to work things out for the first time.

One last thing. The book is full of fairly advanced science, but Mukherjee also uses examples from his own family (who have a history of Schizophrenia) and other families to add a personal and more accessible slant to the book. Readers of his previous magnum opus on Cancer will recognise this approach. For me it works very well to relate the science to actual human lives that are affected, for better or worse, by the dry stuff that happens in laboratories.


Narration. American so not really a true reflection of the Indian-born author, but very professional, competent, measured (he does a slightly angry voice only when this is appropriate).
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- Judy Corstjens

Fascinating, exhilarating thought provoking all at the same time

Very well researched, written and read - at times like a thriller, at times like a mystery and at times like a credible science journal. 20 hours very well spent!!
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- Nitin

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-06-2016
  • Publisher: Random House AudioBooks