Book Review: The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I hated this book at first. The first half of the book dragged on, and the recount of the history of genes was too detailed (getting tangled with days, times, and giftshop bunnies), making the book heavy to read. I kept averting the book and hoping there was something else to read, but I persisted. It was a good thing. The book gets better towards the end. It gets more animated and more passionate about genes and the science behind it, asking questions how does this affect humanity, is this right, and can we even say anything at this point as while we know so much we know so little. I especially enjoyed the chapters about gender and sexuality from the perspective of genetics. It was well written, informative, and a subject that should be raised in our media again and again, so we would understand our biology and genders better.

Siddharta Mukherjee raises important questions in his book about normalcy and how should we screen diseases (mental or physiological) and how should we react to them. He writes that: “Normalcy is the antithesis of evolution.” Meaning that if we tamper with the aberrations, thinking we are doing good removing things like (possible) schizophrenia from our gene pool, it might not be as advantageous as we think (to note here, while we know some genes which affect schizophrenia we don’t know how things play with each other and if there are connections we don’t know and understand.) We need diversity as homogeneity has its dangers. He also warns that our imagination is narrow with the desired effects, and I would add on that those imaginations are cultural and time-sensitive. What we think desired outcomes now, might not be so in the future or across the bond. Beauty, intelligence, and proper behavior aren’t as rigid as we think.

How should I conclude? The Gene: An Intimate History is a great book, and I recommend it. But take the name seriously at least for the first half of the book, it truly is an intimate history of genetics.

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