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The Gene

An Intimate History
Narrated by: Dennis Boutsikaris
Length: 19 hrs and 21 mins
Categories: Non-fiction, Science
4.5 out of 5 stars (258 ratings)

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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.

©2016 Siddhartha Mukherjee (P)2016 Random House AudioBooks

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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).

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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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!!

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Incredibly detailed, and yet easy to follow

This book is easily one of my favourites in the pop science genre. The author makes the complicated, painfully detailed subject matter of genetics sound easy and interesting. The personal anecdotes and case studies make this book much more than just an informative science piece- it’s moving, thought provoking, and highly enjoyable. I’m certain I will come back to it soon.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great listen

Gripping history of the science of genetics interwoven with a poignant personal history. Enjoyed it very much.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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May become compulsory

Would you consider the audio edition of The Gene to be better than the print version?

Cannot comment

What did you like best about this story?

The effort shown by the author to give as 'balanced' account as possible.

Have you listened to any of Dennis Boutsikaris’s other performances? How does this one compare?

I am not aware of listening to a performance by Dennis before - but this is truly outstanding.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

'Moved' is not the word I would use - did it make me think ?? - numerous times.

Any additional comments?

That someone would even consider doing a 'work' relating to this subject is amazing - and we should all thank Siddhartha for doing so. But to dos so with such an evenhanded approach is a compliment to his intelligence. Could we, IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE, see this become compulsory reading in our schools - I, for one, hope so.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating read/listen

This was my first audio book and as my headline states I found it to be fascinating. A really good mix of the science, the history and the ethics around genomics. I am definitely a layman.

My wife is doing a masters in Genomics and listened to a lot of this with me. She said the science was exactly what she had been studying in her first module and that she too found the history really interesting.

Genomics is a big thing in medicine right now and this book will help you understand why and what it might mean in the future.

Highly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Freaks become norms, and norms become extinct.

Monster by monster, evolution advanced”
― Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History

We are a code a language, participants in the same rules of life that all forms life of this earth take part in and we as a species are beginning to to decode it and understand the power within that knowledge.

This book is a historical and personal description of what we have learned to this point, it is also a warning of how we have used this ideas to promote political agendas and prejudices that have developed into some of the most horrible events in human history, it also shows that we are at the very edge of discoveries that will liberate us from some of the worst illnesses that have ruled our lives and our death.

This book is very accessible and so, so interesting it is a shame many will not read it out of fear it would be too technical or too complicated, the truth is it will open a world of ideas and give you a perspective that will enrich your life and your understanding of what is being developed and a way of understanding some of the implications of this developments.

I enjoyed reading this book, and learning more about life itself and how truly amazing it is, this is about one of the most important technologies of our day and it how it influences and touches our most basic needs from gestation to death.

9 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic book.

Highly recommend this. Such a wonderful book, will read again. Kept me interested all the while, you don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy it.

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Good overall primer for the topic

I enjoyed the overall tone and found the book highly unformative. Perhaps it was a little tautalogical in prose though certainly not in context. I used the hardback edition too for the plates and the notes and found that this would be essential for the chapters where you learn all information to understanding DNA structure, cutting and PCR. Using both the audio and the book recommended for busy readers with many books. Sone of the family history is useful to understand the author so I find this book to be very complete.

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  • David
  • linlithgow, United Kingdom
  • 20-05-18

In a word - Brilliant!<br /><br />

This is science and literature at its best. Beautifully written in a way that explains the development of the complex concept genetics and its development, that is both enthralling, and understandable, I think for all of us.
I've read the Kindle version, listened to the Audible version, and I'm now thinking of getting a 'hard copy' for. the bookshelf.
Go for it.

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  • Kaarlis
  • 19-11-18

Recommended for everyone

While at some points this book becomes very Technical and Scientific, it is a recommended listen to everyone.

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  • Eduardo Smith
  • 27-06-17

Interesting subject, hard on audiobook

The subject is very interesting and the author was very good in intersecting the cientific advances with the sociological impact and reactions. It is also interesting to understand the relationship among researchers and their motivations. But the book is a little bit too technical for a layman and 2/3 of the book are filled with technical details. But the worse is dealing with this in an audiobook, when it is hard to back to check on something, take a little longer to read and reread a paragraph. I recommend the book, but not on audio. I might get a print copy to go back to some points that I want to understand better.

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  • Ron
  • 29-06-16

GGeenneettiiccss. Unpacked

This is a truly remarkable volume where the author unpacks for the layperson the history of Genetics. Of equal importance, the current issues concerning genes and their manipulation, right up to the present day, are expounded and explained. I learned a great deal from this fine book.