“Gene” is one of the most loaded words in modern biology. Is it a selfish automaton that manipulates us for its own benefit? A preordained determinant of character and health? A fluid script liable to be rewritten by circumstance? Or does it perhaps not exist as a well-defined concept at all? If you’re confused, you’ve got good reason. And it’s unlikely that you’ll find a better guide through these thorny questions than physician and biologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, whose “biography of cancer” The Emperor of All Maladies won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011.
Much of Mukherjee’s story, from Darwin to eugenics, Mendel’s peas to Watson and Crick and the Human Genome Project, is well trodden, yet is rendered fresh and engaging by both his lucid prose and insightful analysis. When it comes to the modern era of genomics, Mukherjee dissects simplistic ideas about how genes affect complex traits such as intelligence.