Book Review: The Gene – Siddhartha Mukherjee

Title: The Gene: An Intimate History
Author: Siddhartha Mukherjee
ISBN: 9781476733500
Pages: 608
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Nonfiction, Science, History
Source: Publisher

Summary

In The Gene, professor and cancer physician Siddartha Mukherjee takes a look at our genes through a social history perspective, melding science, medicine, and history to help us understand exactly what our genes do and why they are important.

Review

If you read Siddhartha Mukherjee’s epic Pulitzer Prize-winning history of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies, then you likely know what you are in for when picking up The Gene. It’s a comprehensive look at genes from many different angles—from the history of their discovery to how they affect our health and behavior to the possibilities and implications of advanced gene manipulation. It’s both broad and incredibly deep, which is hard to do successfully, yet once again, Mukherjee does it expertly.

I’m usually a pretty fast reader, but I took The Gene slow. I mean SLOW—it took me a couple of months to get through it. Not because it was difficult or boring, or anything of the sort; I found the entire book fascinating. So fascinating, in fact, that I found myself rereading certain sections, thinking and pondering over a paragraph for a few minutes before I moved onto the next. This is a book that is worth spending some qualiy time with.

There’s a lot of science in The Gene, but it’s a surprisingly emotional read. Mukherjee does an incredible job mixing personal stories with hard science. He makes you realize that science isn’t this cold thing that is impersonal and disconnected from humanity. It is intertwined with who we are as people, and explains why we are here. If you’re looking for a great long read to sink your teeth into, to really get lost in, I highly recommend picking this up immediately.

Other books by Siddhartha Mukherjee:

The Emperor of All Maladies

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Book Review: The Fever – Sonia Shah

the fever shahTitle: The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years
Author: Sonia Shah
ISBN: 9780312573010
Pages: 320
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Nonfiction, Science
Source: Personal Copy

Summary

Why is malaria such a modern-day scourge? Why haven’t we been able to eradicate it? And why is it mostly nonexistent in Europe and the United States? In her investigation of malaria, Sonia Shah answers these many questions and many others as she strives to understand how malaria has shaped the evolution of human civilization over the past 500,000 years.

Review

I’m a big fan of pop science–well-researched science but told from a journalistic perspective designed to appeal to laypeople—so when I first heard of Sonia Shah’s books about science and medicine, I was intrigued. I decided to start with The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years because malaria is a disease I’m somewhat familiar with. Though I’ve never suffered from it, I have close friends who have become its victim (and survived to tell the tale, though as this book shows, many others aren’t so lucky) and have taken preventative malaria medicine on trips back to visit my parents’ homeland, India.

The Fever has surprises and interesting facts on every page, but the most surprising to me is how common malaria is in equatorial countries. The question isn’t who’s had malaria. It’s who hasn’t. Its ubiquity made sense when I thought about it, but it was startling nonetheless. I found this deep dive into the disease, and specifically its resistance to eradication and ability to morph based on what we’re throwing at it, fascinating.

Sonia Shah writes in an easy, journalistic style that is very accessible. You don’t have to know a lot about malaria to enjoy this book—you really don’t even need to be overly familiar with what’s going on in medicine. Shah lays the groundwork you need to know without coming across as condescending. I was completely drawn into this book in a way that can be difficult with nonfiction, especially when it comes to somewhat technical topics. I appreciated her writing style, for sure.

Having read The Fever, I’m planning on coating myself with bug spray every time I leave the house (I’m kidding, that comes with its own health risks, but MAN this book is disturbing). I found this account clearly told and eye opening, and I appreciated the mix of anecdote, science, and reporting. Shah’s a talented writer, and I’m glad I have more books of hers to read before I run through her backlist.

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Book Review: Undeniable – Bill Nye

undeniable-bill-nyeTitle: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation
Author: Bill Nye
ISBN: 9781250007131
Pages: 320
Release Date: November 4, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Nonfiction, Science
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

In this book, Bill Nye discusses the ins and outs of evolution.

Review:

I grew up watching Bill Nye, the Science Guy. I’ve followed him through my adult life. I followed the Bill Nye–Ken Ham debate on Evolution vs. Creationism. It’s not a surprise, then, that Nye’s book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation went to the top of my list when it released in November. It took me awhile to get to it, but when I finally did it was absolutely and completely worth the wait.

Anyone who’s familiar with Bill Nye knows his style. He explains difficult concepts in a clear and breezy way, with a healthy sense of humor attached. He brings that to Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. This book is about science, from beginning to end, yet it is always completely fascinating. What I appreciate most about this book is that it’s a great introduction to evolution for people who only know the basics. Nye gets into the nitty gritty of evolution, explaining how it works and why. He doesn’t treat the reader like an idiot, but also recognizes that these concepts can be difficult. It’s a delicate balance, but Nye’s had years of practice getting it just right.

One aspect of Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation that I found interesting is that Nye isn’t really interested in having a dialogue about Creationism. He’s done that already, in his debate with Ken Ham. He absolutely wants to address evolution with both people who believe in Creationism and people who don’t, but his goal isn’t to debate the specific merits of one versus the other. No, this is a book about evolution, first and foremost. The title of the book, Undeniable, says it all.

I love science-y books that are written in a pop culture sort of way, so Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation was pretty much perfect for me. It’s definitely an intriguing, thoughtful read that had a lot of humor and warmth mixed in–a perfect balance!

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Book Review: Neutrino Hunters – Ray Jawardhana

neutrino hunters coverTitle: Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Ray Jawardhana
ISBN: 9780374220631
Pages: 256
Release Date: December 10, 2013
Publisher: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Genre: Nonfiction, Science, History
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

In this history, astrophysicist and historian Ray Jawardhana traces the  hunt for the elusive particle known as the neutrino.

Review:

It seems strange to called a nonfiction work about science a “thriller,” and yet Ray Jawardhana accomplishes exactly that with his book about the neutrino. Scientists throughout modern history have chased this particle, trying to pin it down, and Jawardhana manages to tell their stories with suspense, keeping the reader hooked on the tale and looking forward to what’s coming next.

Neutrino Hunters features a lot of science, but Jawardhana does a great job breaking it down and explaining it in an easily digestible way. Not only that, but because of his focus on the scientists just as much as the science, the reader gets a balanced read, full of personalities and interesting figures as much as hard science. Jawardhana also does a great job setting his scenes in Neutrino Hunters, using vivid descriptions to really bring the settings to life.

If you enjoy scientific history as much as I do, then Neutrino Hunters should absolutely be on your list. Jawardhana is a talented writer, and he writes very well for the lay person, making concepts accessible and interesting, while managing to flesh out his book with an entertaining narrative that keeps readers invested. This was a great, suspenseful read that I highly recommend. If you aren’t a science reader normally, this is also a good starting point, as the science isn’t too complicated, and it’s just as much about the people as it is the concepts.

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Book Review: Storm Surge – Adam Sobel

storm surge cover

Title: Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future Author: Adam Sobel ISBN: 9780062304766 Pages: 336 Release Date: October 14, 2014 Publisher: HarperWave Genre: Nonfiction, Science Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Hurricane Sandy, also known as Superstorm Sandy or Frankenstorm Sandy. It was unprecedented in many ways: […]

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Book Review: The Psychopath Whisperer – Kent A. Kiehl

The Psychopath Whisperer cover

Title: The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience Author: Kent A. Kiehl, PhD ISBN: 9780770435844 Pages: 304 Release Date: April 22, 2014 Publisher: Crown Genre: Nonfiction, Science Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: One of the leading experts on psychopaths, Kent Kiehl takes the reader on a comprehensive study of psychopaths. He […]

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Book Review: The Age of Radiance – Craig Nelson

The Age of Radiance cover

Title: The Age of Radiance Author: Craig Nelson ISBN: 9781451660432 Pages: 448 Release Date: March 25, 2014 Publisher: Scribner Genre: Nonfiction, History, Science Source: Publicist Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: In this definitive history of the atomic age, Craig Nelson takes the reader all the way back to Madame Curie and deftly moves forward through […]

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Book Review: The End of Night – Paul Bogard

The End of Night cover

Title: The End of Night: Searching for Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light Author: Paul Bogard ISBN: 9780316182904 Pages: 336 Release Date: July 9, 2013 Publisher: Little, Brown Genre: Non-Fiction, Science, Travel Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: With the increasing urbanization of the globe and the expansion of major cities, the […]

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