I loved Siddhartha Mukherjee’s new book: The Gene: An Intimate History. It’s a comprehensive and fascinating look at the history of Genetics from Aristotle to Mendel and Darwin to Watson and Crick to the modern day study of epigenetics.
I did wonder about who the intended audience was. It’s fairly dense science. Genetics was one of my favorite classes in college and medical school and a lot of the historical information was familiar to me. I’m not sure it would be as readable if it was the first time I was encountering plasmids or recombinant DNA or the ins and outs of fruit fly mutations. Still, it’s a marvelous read. In addition to the history, Mukherjee uses the lens of his own family’s history of mental illness to talk about the clinical application of inheritance and genetics.
Mukherjee is strongest when retelling the history of genetics. Morgan, Franklin, Watson, Mendel and Berg come alive and almost jump off the page. The personal thread also helps to make the science seem more relevant and bring to light some of the ethical questions regarding genetics today. If there is a weakness, it’s in Mukherjee’s discussion of these ethical questions. He doesn’t really go into any kind of depth here and I was left slightly disappointed.
On a completely different note, but equally unputdownable (it should be a word) was Liane Moriarty’s new book: Truly Madly Guilty. If you’ve read any of Moriarty’s other books you’ll recognize a lot of what is in this book: secrets, memory loss, upper middle class Australian families that feel like a Southern Hemisphere doppelganger to suburban American families, multiple perspectives, and more secrets. I can’t put my finger on what it is about her books but Moriarty has found a way to take the same basic formula and make it unresistable again and again and again.
As a warning here are he things that I neglected in order to read this book:
Making dinner, homeschooling my children, cleaning my house, exercising, packing for vacation, prepping for a co-op class, feeding the dog, and sleep. Not to worry, I did eventually get all those things done.
But I finished the book first.