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Customer Review

10 July 2017
I finished reading ‘The Gene’ by Siddhartha Mukherjee last month. It has been a fascinating voyage in the world of biology- genetics to be precise. As I wrote before too, it has been written with great erudition and is richly laced with metaphor and similes to make it comprehensible even for a non-biologist. It staggers my mind to think how must an ocean of research material have been mined for it, grasped, and then put to masterly use by the doctor-writer. Only a man of SM’s calibre who gave us a wonderful book on cancer ‘The emperor of all maladies’ before, could have done it. The gene book tells us in gripping detail the whole story of the gene right from early meanderings before the Christian era by the Greek Philosophers like Pythagoras (530 BC), Anaxagoras (400 BC), Aristotle (350 BC) and many others to unravel the mystery of inheritance. (Incidentally, Anaxagoras thought that the essence of heredity was carried by the male sperm, while the female only “shaped’ male semen in the womb to produce the foetus! And Aristotle argued that hereditary information is transmitted in the form of messages.) Nothing is in fact left out by the author in this long journey of man’s search for answers to the intriguing gene puzzle: Mendel’s experiments on pea to unravel the mystery of inheritance of characters, Darwin’s great voyage, how Watson and Crick cracked the DNA code, the human genome, how the new findings have helped mankind in understanding and curing genetic disorders by gene therapy, gene edting and gene surgery and the future scenario in regard to genomics and humankind. A lot has been done but a lot more still needs to be discovered. So many tricky genetic ailments such as Haemophilia, sickle cell anaemia etc which have afflicted mankind causing huge suffering, are now being cured thanks to new insights into the subtle working of the gene. Many more are on the threshold of being tamed and treated through gene therapy. The quest is on. Needless to say, the coming decades will see man (or a geneticist) playing God with gene editing and cloning technologies in his kitty. It will be for the humankind though to see and decide where to draw the line.
What makes the book so outstanding is the interesting manner and the arresting narrative with which the whole story of the gene is laid bare before the mesmerized reader with fascinating details about the personal lives of Mendel, Darwin and all other luminaries who have been involved in their scientific endeavours in unravelling the mystery of the gene right from the beginning till date, their obsessions, devotion, dedication, foibles, failures, jealousies, the politics and so on.
Having been a zoologist myself – though not a great one! – I could strike an instant chord with the book and had it fill many gaping voids in my understanding of the gene.
Subhash Sharma, Palampur, Kangra HP
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4.6 out of 5 stars