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It's week 2 of our #BiotechBookClub and this week we're recommending 'The Gene: An Intimate History' by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Siddhartha Mukherjee is an oncologist, researcher and author. He's most well-known for his first book, published in 2010, 'The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer' in which he documents the 4,000-year history of cancer. This book not only won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and The Guardian First Book Award but was also listed in Time Magazines 100 most influential books of the last century. Following the success of 'The Emperor of All Maladies', Mukherjee collaborated with Ken Burns, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, to create a six-hour documentary for PBS based on the book.
In 2015, Mukherjee wrote his second book The 'Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science' where he questions "Is medicine a science?" and identifies three fundamental principles that he believes govern modern medicine.
Finally, in 2016, 'The Gene: A Intimate History' was published! In this latest book, Mukherjee documents the beginnings of what we now call genetics.
What is the gene? Mukherjee traces the gene's history from it's beginning as an intangible enigma, "a ghost lurking in the biological machine," through to what Mukherjee calls the "post-genomic" world, where, in the era of recombinant DNA, the gene has become an instrument of its own manipulation.
'The Gene' is particularly relevant this week, as 18-24th May is Mental Health Awareness Week. Mukherjee uses his own family history of reoccurring mental illness to frame the story of the gene, reminding us that genetics is relevant to all of our everyday lives.
Mukherjee doesn't claim to be an expert in mental health, he believes that "unlocking the molecular mechanism is crucial" in reducing the stigma around mental illness. Using diseases such as schizophrenia and depression as examples, he says "we're increasingly finding out that there are strong genetic components and these interact with the environment. The analogy is that you require both: the gun and the trigger. These gene-environment interactions are one of the most poorly understood phenomena in health in general, and they're extraordinarily poorly understood in mental health".
Although this book is a celebration of progress, Mukherjee also shares the dark side of the gene's history, his concerns about the ways we think about our genes & ourselves and what that means for the future of humanity.
You can watch Bill Gates and Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee talk about the book in this short interview, here.
Or, you can buy a hard copy or audiobook here.
Let us know your thoughts about this book or the first #TheBiotechBookClub book, 'Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech' by Sally Smith Hughes, below!