Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Gene: An Intimate History

The Gene is the engrossing, insightful, educational, suspenseful, thought-provoking, disturbing, unnerving, even chilling history of genetics.  Un-put-down-able. This is a book I may read twice. You should read it at least once (at least IMHO).

This book is bursting with information about the evolution of genetics from the seeds of Darwin and Mendel up to 2015, told in a clear, understandable, exciting way. It reminded me why I almost majored in genetics. The descriptions of dogged efforts to move one painstaking step forward over the course of a decade(!) make me relieved I chose a field with more immediate gratifications.

The book juxtaposes the spectacular advances of science with social and moral issues such as eugenics.  By coolly pointing out the ramifications of each step along the way, he induces a sense of wonder but also foreboding. For instance, the description of the American eugenics movement makes current US politics - with a sociopathic racist running for President with the support of a disturbing proportion of the population - even more terrifying. Of course, given the American eugenics sterilization schemes of the 1920s, Mukerjee might not be here to sound the alarm; his family had the wrong skin colour and a familial history of schizophrenia. By the way, Mukerjee scrupulously omits explicit mention of this fact. 

Mukerjee has a scintillating writing style. His vivid descriptions of the people involved and the evocative settings where major advances took place bring the book to life and made me marvel at his command of the language. He considers why different words were chosen and the implications of those choices. What a treat to find such scientific insight and writing skill in one person. I must confess I had to consult a dictionary a few times, and not just for scientific or medical terms. But when I found the word, it was clear it wasn’t there to show off, but to deliver exactly the right nuance of meaning.

There were several themes in this book that will keep me thinking for a while. You might see some of them turning up in future posts.

P. S. For past book reviews check here. If you like this book I think you'd like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Curiosity.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Three Psychological Thrillers

Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review section, recently wrote "In my future life, I will spend entire weekends lying in a hammock by some idyllic lakeside, cooly reading thriller after thriller".  Pamela, for me, the future is here. The idyllic lake is Six Mile Lake in the Muskokas north of Toronto, the hammock is from Lee Valley and the thrillers are many and varied. I've recommended many thrillers that I've enjoyed in past book reviews (you can find the complete list of my book reviews here).

It seems like yesterday, but the blockbuster psychological thriller Gone Girl erupted onto the scene fully six years ago with the movie following a couple of years later. The Girl on the Train followed three years later, was again a blockbuster success with a similar formula, and is soon to be a movie. This year's contribution to the genre is I Let You Go. How much do you want to bet there's a movie coming about this too?

I would recommend all these books for lakeside hammock reading. They all have engrossing plots guaranteed to keep you from snoozing off in that oh-so-comfy hammock!

For past reviews of other books, check the list of my reviews here.