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HCAU Reviews: The Gene

Whether you are studying for a postgrad in genetics or didn’t quite make it through your biology class, this book has something for you. The only thing you need to bring is an interest in our basic molecular makeup, and an enthusiasm to learn. Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee weaves the tale of genetics from the very beginning. From long before we had any real idea of what genes were, people could tell that some sort of information was passing from parents to children, whether similarities in hair colour and features, or fatal diseases. The story continues, tracking the gene through all its highlights, such as the discovery of the double helix structure, and the eventual mapping of the human genome itself.


The Gene covers a wide range of topics all inherently linked to genetics. Some of these are the more light-hearted and interesting, such as Gregor Mendel’s failure at priesthood, leading him to his pea plants. Others, however, take a darker turn, looking at the Dutch ‘Hongerwinter’ of 1944-5, the science of eugenics, and how single gene mutations can cause life-threatening disease. Mukherjee explorers all aspects of genetics, telling the story of the development of the science, and never failing to point out all of the interesting stops along the way.


While it is a long read at over 500 pages, it is worth every word. The writing is interesting and easy to follow. Naturally, dealing with a complex subject, some sections require greater engagement, but it is definitely worthwhile, and for the most part the book is as easy to follow as any other. Although the idea of one book covering the whole of genetics may appear intimidating at first glance, this book guides you through easily, explaining everything as you go, and full of interesting anecdotes and surprising information. And once you’re finished reading, not only will you have a far greater understanding of the history and science of genetics, but it is also an excellent book to brag about.

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Fourth year studying English and Sociology.
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