Review of The Gene - An Intimate History

May 11, 2020

One reason science can be so frustrating to understand is the lack of context to ground new knowledge in. By talking about genetics as a part of the history of the field Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee makes a dense subject interesting and accessible. His book is long but weaves science into personal stories and questions of ethics. My biggest regret is having to rush through this book near the end because there are a lot of ideas to process.

This book is for anyone that wants to learn about genetics and how the field is going to impact society. It touches upon how genetic technologies work, how they were developed, and the ethical implications of their use. Policymakers who have to make recommendations about regulating the field would benefit from reading this book. Also, if you are interested in doing a DNA test at a place like 23andMe, you should read it first. It is also worth a read for anyone that cares about racial equity. The book has enough variety to keep all readers interested and you can skip or skim the dense portions without losing too much context for the other parts.

You should read The Gene because genetics is a growing field that is going to change society and medicine. Understanding the science and history of genetics will help you process the ethical implications of these new technologies. The book provides a window into the future. By reading it you will understand the capabilities and limitations of genetics. It also explains RNA, PCR, and other initialisms that have been in the news as scientists battle SARS-CoV-2. You will not come away from this book an expert, but you will have a foundation to understand the concepts of genetics and find information if you want to learn more.

I am still processing a lot of the ideas from the book. This is one I wish I purchased instead of taking it out from the library. It was longer than a typical book. Some of the material would benefit from additional time to process or contextualize it. I also would refer back to it, especially for scientific explanations. If you have any interest in science and care about the future, you should buy a copy.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.