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Looking for a good read? Snuggle up with these juicy titles from the fields of genetics and synthetic biology

Looking for a good read? Snuggle up with these juicy titles from the fields of genetics and synthetic biology hero image
No, there may not be a “Genetics” section at your local bookstore and your neighborhood library probably does not have a “Synthetic Biology” aisle, but the field has generated a surprising number of respectable titles by big-name (or biggish-name) authors. Find a quiet corner of your lab during your next lunch break and crack open one of these must-reads.

 

Mukherjee, Siddhartha (2016) The Gene: An Intimate History. Scribner 592 pp. $26.

Penned by the same guy who wrote The Emperor of All Maladies (2011), an epic history of cancer, The Gene is one part family history (a mother who is an identical twin, cousins and uncles who have schizophrenia) and one part rumination on the power of genetics in determining fate—something which Mukherjee says led to the rise of eugenics. It was called “dramatic and precise” by The Sunday Times.

Dawkins, Richard (1976) The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press. 224 pp. $40.

The outspoken atheist’s first book has been called one of the most influential science books of all time. Dawkins begins by stating that a person’s altruism can be explained by gene selfishness, touches on the origin of life, and looks at DNA’s role in evolution as well as evolutionary strategies, group selection, and why species live in groups. Yeah—it’s a lot for 224 pages, but don’t let that turn you off.

Carey, Nessa (2017) The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics. Columbia University Press.  352 pp. $19.

Garnering a 4.6/5 on Amazon, this modern classic connects many dots in our field, from how ants control their colonies to why some plants need cold weather before they can flower and how our bodies age and develop disease.

Reich, David (2019) Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past. Penguin Random House. 368 pp. $17.

Called “groundbreaking” and “a captivating glimpse into humankind,” this work delves into how a better understanding of DNA is exposing inequalities among populations and individuals and between the sexes.

Doudna, Jennifer and Sternberg, Samuel H. (2017) A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution. Houghton Mifflin Harcout. 307 pp. $16.

With CRISPR babies back in the news, Doudna and Sternberg’s book is all the more relevant. Doudna was the scientist who in 2015 called for a worldwide moratorium on the use of CRISPR to make heritable changes in human embryos. With this tool, she says, humans have the power to control evolution. What should we do?

Rutherford, Adam (2017) A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. The Experiment. 416 pp. $39.

This witty award finalist illustrates how DNA tests—which now cost less than a day trip to the zoo—offer only a tabloid-style peek at our roots, but that the more we learn about our DNA and the DNA of our ancestors, the more we are having to change our perception of just who Homo sapiens are.

Zimmer, Carl (2018) She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. Dutton. 672 pp. $16.

Another award winner, this tome dismantles scientific misconceptions and enters into a world where the grassroots of heredity flow in all directions and does not shy away from complexity—i.e., this is a good one to read and then lord over your friends at your next dinner party.

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