In this progressive day and age when we take everyone and everything at our disposal for granted, here comes Siddhartha Mukherjee and makes us take note of the most fundamental element of our being – the gene, and wraps an informative yet fast-paced account around it. He takes his own time to dive in the gene pool, first guiding us through his moving family history in graphic detail to establish what exactly prompted him to write this book, and only then introducing us to Gregor Mendel, the man who first toyed with the idea that parents transmit some of their ‘likeness’ onto their children.
This book had me in awe even though I was familiar with the general XY-XX-YY chromosomal patterns that determine your sex and also what traits of your parents shall be in you. Now while this may be common knowledge at present, reading about the men and women who stipulated and experimented to learn about genetics back in the day added to good learning. Add to it the author’s wit and wonderful storytelling technique that only made the reading much more better. The Gene is a panoramic account of 150 years into genetic development, and offers not just glimpses of the past, but also shares perspectives for the future.
I don’t read much on Biology or related topics (my last fiction in this category being Orfeo), but this book never made me feel like an ‘outsider’, if I may put it that way, and explained everything simply in layman terms. If you have to go for an in-depth study on gene, DNA, genome cloning, genome mapping, eugenics, AIDS etc., this is the definitive pick-me-up and understand-it-all book. I loved how I could connect with the likes of Mendel, Darwin, Crick, Watson, Ferdinand and other bigwigs of genetics on a basic human level, and how their contribution to the study of evolution was made to appear nothing short of heroic. All these characters were given a backstory, a premise, a conflict and then closure, so I did not really care how fictitious the settings may be really, it most definitely had me engrossed for days in a subject I’d normally have put down in minutes.
The scope of the book is tremendous. I, for one, read the book in short spurts to absorb as much as I could in every single sitting. One of the most magnificent books I’ve ever read, and surely my best non-fiction of the year as yet.
Overall Rating: 5/5
You may purchase the book from Amazon here: or from Flipkart here.
PS: If this book or similar subjects (medical science) interest you, you might want to catch up with the American TV series The Knick, a fictional hospital based in the twentieth century, where doctors and surgeons use innovative techniques to overcome their understanding and limitations of medical science. Damn good!