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Publisher's Summary

 "Science book of the year" (The Guardian)

Longlisted for the 2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

One of New York Times 100 notable books for 2018.

One of Publishers Weekly's top 10 books of 2018.

One of Kirkus' best books of 2018.

One of Mental Floss' best books of 2018.

One of Science Friday's best science books of 2018.

“Extraordinary” (New York Times Book Review)

"Magisterial" (The Atlantic)

"Engrossing" (Wired)

"Leading contender as the most outstanding nonfiction work of the year." (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Award-winning, celebrated New York Times columnist and science writer Carl Zimmer presents a profoundly original perspective on what we pass along from generation to generation. 

Charles Darwin played a crucial part in turning heredity into a scientific question, and yet he failed spectacularly to answer it. The birth of genetics in the early 1900s seemed to do precisely that. Gradually, people translated their old notions about heredity into a language of genes. As the technology for studying genes became cheaper, millions of people ordered genetic tests to link themselves to missing parents, to distant ancestors, to ethnic identities....

But, Zimmer writes, "Each of us carries an amalgam of fragments of DNA, stitched together from some of our many ancestors. Each piece has its own ancestry, traveling a different path back through human history. A particular fragment may sometimes be cause for worry, but most of our DNA influences who we are - our appearance, our height, our penchants - in inconceivably subtle ways."

Heredity isn't just about genes that pass from parent to child. Heredity continues within our own bodies, as a single cell gives rise to trillions of cells that make up our bodies. We say we inherit genes from our ancestors - using a word that once referred to kingdoms and estates - but we inherit other things that matter as much or more to our lives, from microbes to technologies we use to make life more comfortable.

We need a new definition of what heredity is, and, through Carl Zimmer's lucid exposition and storytelling, this resounding tour de force delivers it. Weaving historical and current scientific research, his own experience with his two daughters, and the kind of original reporting expected of one of the world's best science journalists, Zimmer ultimately unpacks urgent bioethical quandaries arising from new biomedical technologies but also longstanding presumptions about who we really are and what we can pass on to future generations.

©2018 Carl Zimmer (P)2018 Penguin Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Changed this strict genetic determinist's mind

Zimmer starts by providing a wonderfully complete history of humankind's understanding of heredity. What seems monstrous today about our early understandings will certainly be the same fate as our current understanding of genetics to future generations. Zimmer does an excellent job of providing a wide array of historical scientific tests and studies on subjects ranging from chimps to rodents to humans that keep the discussion interesting and exciting while covering both genetics and environment in great detail. As for current events, Zimmer does a fantastic job of explaining the intricacies in layman's terms for CRSPR CAS 9 with regards to the complex moral, ethical, and scientific challenges and opportunities that the technology presents. I suggest this to anyone wishing to gain conversational intelligence about our modern understanding of heredity who don't mind feeling a bit overwhelmed by the information Zimmer offers for consideration.

36 of 37 people found this review helpful

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it was different from the gene

I was worried when I bought this book that it would be very similar to Siddhartha mukherjee's the gene. I was thinking that this would be another summary of the things that I already knew about genetics. Instead Carl Zimmer wove together an incredible story on the Forefront and history of genetics and what it really means to inherit something. I would highly recommend this book even if you have already read the gene or other works that are more survey like in content about genetics.

27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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Very informative!

If you like reading research on research, this book in incredibly informative! From the philosophical arguments about heredity to the current science and status of genetic engineering, this book is a thorough and interesting investigation into how we perceive WHAT we are is passed on to future generations. Not only is the scientific significance examined, but as well as the ethical and legal ramifications of these findings.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Amazing overview

Highly recommended. May be too much detail for some but still an excellent resource. Worthy of your time :-)

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Good

This is a good book. However, as an audiobook format, it is hard to return previous sections. The story is a little dispersed. It requires a content to look at overall organization.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Good overview of inheritance

Starts off slow with stories that have little to do with inheritance, but I'm glad I stuck with it. Zimmer provides a good up to date research in genentics. A good overview for anyone interested in the study of heredity.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great intro into genetics

It's a doozy, long and jumps around a little bit... but I thought it was still GREAT! Learned more about things I knew and learned some new things.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Zimmer is one of the best popular science writers.

Most scientists suffer from what is known as the curse of knowledge a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand. Zimmer isn't a scientist instead he's an exemplary story teller. He's crafted this abstruse subject matter into a narrative more akin to a story. This is my first book of his that I've read and it won't be my last.
I think one of the biggest challenges for a sweeping story like this for the author is their conclusion or summarization. But in the final chapter Zimmer adroitly pulled the story of heredity in particular and genetics more broadly into a cautionary tale with cause for optimism as well as worry. This is a very good book.

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Heredity For Everyone

Loved the descriptions of how we learned what we know about genetics. Included errors as well as accomplishments. Fascinating history that sets the stage for the unbelievable present. The last part of the book almost seems like science fiction. He explains complicated new discoveries that can be understood by non scientists as well as scientists. Ends with important questions we should contemplate.

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Inviting, comprehensive and absorbing

Zimmer does a great job as a scientific journalist. This book draws you into his story and the drama of discovery. He brings the reader into the latest discoveries and reviews potential social consequences. Well written and understandable to curious readers of all backgrounds.