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Publisher's Summary

"Extraordinary." (The New York Times Book Review)

"A beguiling narrative." (Nature)

"A treasure trove." (Science)

"Magnificent." (Publishers Weekly)

"Enchanting." (Kirkus)

Heredity is redefined in this sweeping, resonating overview of a force that shaped human society - a force set to shape our future even more radically. 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

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

23 of 23 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.

13 of 14 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 :-)

2 of 2 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.

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.

1 of 1 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.

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Sweeping review & update of heredity, beyond genes

Great listen! Well explained scientific concepts behind heredity; beyond genes. Including, among others, epigenetics, culture, mitochondrial replacement, preimplatation genetic testing and CRISPR.

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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.

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 07-08-18

I already knew racist and their kin are fools

Heredity is the sum of all the previous environments and the current environment we were thrown into. Who we are as a species and as individuals is far more complicated than just our genes. Mendel’s law is a suggestion more than a law. This book lays the ground work for each of those assertions and steps the listener through some of the history of our understanding of the subject and reviews some of the current new research that has been transpiring over the last five years or so.

Humans are special: we culturally pass on racism, bigotry, misogyny and superstition mimetically. The racist premises in the ‘Bell Curve’ or Nicholas Wade’s last book are best ignored rather than refuted since they are groundless. The author doesn’t mention either book or author but he does spend a lot of time refuting their absurdities inherent in their deterministic genetic fallacies.

Racist and their ilk are going to hate. They will always have their reasons for hating the other just for the sake of making themselves appear superior to themselves and their select cohorts. Science has moved past that trash type thinking and this book lays out the case with fairly familiar concepts and stories.

Most of what was in this book seemed to have been in other books that I’ve read recently, and the parts that weren’t in the other books I’ve already read about in Science News or Scientific American. For those who are still in a ‘nature v. nurture’ deterministic paradigm and think biology through genes alone determines destiny this book will give them the background they need to move ahead. For all others, who realize that heredity is dependent on all of our previous environments (both as a species and as individuals and within the genome, the cells, the womb and the polis) and our current environment and experiences this book will be mostly superfluous since that is the main theme for this book.

3 of 16 people found this review helpful