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She Has Her Mother's Laugh
Cover of She Has Her Mother's Laugh
She Has Her Mother's Laugh
The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity
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2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award Finalist
"Science book of the year"The Guardian

One of New York Times 100 Notable Books for 2018
One of Publishers Weekly's Top Ten Books of 2018
One of Kirkus's Best Books of 2018
One of Mental Floss's 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

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 long-standing presumptions about who we really are and what we can pass on to future generations.
2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award Finalist
"Science book of the year"The Guardian

One of New York Times 100 Notable Books for 2018
One of Publishers Weekly's Top Ten Books of 2018
One of Kirkus's Best Books of 2018
One of Mental Floss's 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

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 long-standing presumptions about who we really are and what we can pass on to future generations.
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  • From the book PROLOGUE

    The worst scares of my life have usually come in unfamiliar places. I still panic a bit when I remember traveling into a Sumatran jungle only to discover my brother, Ben, had dengue fever. I
    lose a bit of breath any time I think about a night in Bujumbura when a friend and I got mugged. My fingers still curl when I recall a fossil-mad paleontologist leading me to the slick mossy edge of a Newfoundland cliff in search of Precambrian life. But the greatest scare of all, the one that made the world suddenly unfamiliar, swept over me while I was sitting with my wife, Grace, in the comfort of an obstetrician's office.

    Grace was pregnant with our first child, and our obstetrician had insisted we meet with a genetics counselor. We didn't see the point. We felt untroubled in being carried along into the future, wherever we might end up. We knew Grace had a second heartbeat inside her, a healthy one, and that seemed enough to know. We didn't even want to find out if the baby was a girl or a boy. We would just debate names in two columns: Liam or Henry, Charlotte or Catherine.

    Still, our doctor insisted. And so one afternoon we went to an office in lower Manhattan, where we sat down with a middle-aged woman, perhaps a decade older than us. She was cheerful and clear, talking about our child's health beyond what the thrum of a heartbeat could tell us. We were politely cool, wanting to end this appointment as soon as possible.

    We had already talked about the risks we faced starting a family in our thirties, the climbing odds that our children might have Down syndrome.

    We agreed that we'd deal with whatever challenges our child faced. I felt proud of my commitment. But now, when I look back at my younger self, I'm not so impressed. I didn't know anything at the time about what it's actually like raising a child with Down syndrome. A few years later, I would get to know some parents who were doing just that. Through them, I would get a glimpse of that life: of round after round of heart surgeries, of the struggle to teach children how to behave with outsiders, of the worries about a child's future after one's own death.

    But as we sat that day with our genetics counselor, I was still blithe, still confident. The counselor could tell we didn't want to be there, but she managed to keep the conversation alive. Down syndrome was not the only thing expectant parents should think about, she said. It was possible that the two of us carried genetic variations that we could pass down to our child, causing other disorders. The counselor took out a piece of paper and drew a family tree, to show us how genes were inherited.

    "You don't have to explain all that to us," I assured her. After all, I wrote about things like genes for a living. I didn't need a high school lecture.

    "Well, let me ask you a little about your family," she replied.

    It was 2001. A few months beforehand, two geneticists had come to the White House to stand next to President Bill Clinton for an announcement. "We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome," Clinton said. "Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind."

    The "entire human genome" that Clinton was hailing didn't come from any single person on Earth. It was an error-ridden draft, a collage of genetic material pieced together from a mix of people. And it had cost $3 billion. Rough as it was, however, its completion was a milestone in the history of science. A rough map is far better than no map at all. Scientists began to compare the human genome to the genomes of other species, in order to learn on a...
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 19, 2018
    In a magnificent work exploring virtually all aspects of heredity, journalist Zimmer (Parasite Rex), masterfully blends exciting storytelling with first-rate science reporting. Although he lucidly explains the basics of Mendelian genetics—which address inheritance and biological diversity—he goes far beyond that topic to explore the complexities of genetic inheritance. For example he notes that there are at least 800 genes influencing height in humans, but collectively they explain only about one-quarter of the heritability of that trait. Zimmer is not shy about taking on controversial topics like the genetics of race, arguing that there aren’t genetic fingerprints for race (“Ancient DNA doesn’t simply debunk the notion of white purity. It debunks the very name white”), and making the case that it is currently all but impossible to draw significant conclusions about the roles genes play in overall intelligence. He also probes developing field of epigenetics (changes in gene expression rather than alteration of genetic code) as well as the role of genetics in developmental and cancer biologies. Zimmer’s writing is rich, whether he’s describing the history of the field or examining the latest research and ethical issues certain to arise. His book is as engrossing as it is enlightening. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME.

  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2018

    Zimmer (creative writing, Yale Univ.; Soul Made Flesh) has years of experience as a science journalist, and with this book strives to combine his varied research about heredity into one place. Heredity is really the only term to describe the material because Zimmer discusses much more than genes, including the "father of modern genetics" Gregor Mendel and the latest research on microbiomes, along with more controversial topics such as eugenics and genetic engineering. Particularly interesting is the discussion of epigenetics, a system reminiscent of Lamarkism that affects gene expression without altering the DNA itself. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was a contemporary of Charles Darwin who believed individuals could pass down adaptations acquired during their lifetimes to their descendants. Zimmer makes the science personal by exploring his own family genealogy, DNA, and microbiome. The only drawback of this book, besides its length, is the vagueness of the chapter headings, which reveal little about what each section will hold. VERDICT Overall, Zimmer's latest offers a comprehensive look at all aspects of heredity in readable and accessible text for anyone interested in the topic.--Cate Schneiderman, Emerson Coll., Boston

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    April 1, 2018
    A fascinating journey through the history of heredityBooks on the current revolution in genetics are not in short supply, so New York Times columnist Zimmer (Science Writing/Yale Univ.; A Planet of Viruses, 2011, etc.) casts his net more widely in a delightful history of efforts to discover why offspring resemble their parents but sometimes don't and how scientists are learning how to change matters. "Very often genes cannot give us what we really want from heredity," he writes. "Each of us carries an amalgam of fragments of DNA, stitched together from some of our many ancestors." As a journalist, the author believes that readers want to hear a story through the eyes of an individual, so he chooses one: himself. After having his genome sequenced, he showed the results to researchers so that they could interpret them. It turns out that he carries genes for two serious diseases; luckily, his wife does not. Zimmer shares many identical genes with a typical Nigerian and typical Chinese person. In case readers are in doubt, every expert agrees that genetics disproves the existence of traditional races. The inheritance of intelligence has made impressive progress despite no agreement on a definition. Though IQ tests don't measure it, per se, they do measure something worth having. People with a high IQ do better in life and live longer. Zimmer does not ignore famous historical oddities such as the Elephant Man, but he pays more attention to how humans inherit common diseases, height, skin color, aging, intelligence, and other traits. It's a search that begins with hokum--Jews were once considered disease-prone and unintelligent--and ends with captivating knowledge. A brief glossary will help readers with such terms as "endosymbiont" and "pluripotent."A thoroughly enchanting tour of big questions, oddball ideas, and dazzling accomplishments of researchers searching to explain, manipulate, and alter inheritance.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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She Has Her Mother's Laugh
She Has Her Mother's Laugh
The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity
Carl Zimmer
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