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Award-winning, celebrated New York Times columnist and science writer Carl Zimmer presents a history of our understanding of heredity in this sweeping, resonating overview of a force that shaped human society – a force set to shape our future even more radically.
She Has Her Mother's Laugh 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.
Carl Zimmer reports from the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life. Since 2013 he has been a columnist at the New York Times. He is a popular speaker at universities, medical schools, museums, and festivals, and he is also a frequent on radio programmes such as Radiolab and This American Life. In 2016, Zimmer won the Stephen Jay Gould Prize, awarded annually by the Society for the Study of Evolution to recognize individuals whose sustained efforts have advanced public understanding of evolutionary science. Zimmer is the author of a dozen books about science, on subjects ranging from viruses to neuroscience to evolution.
"Beautifully written [...] [A] grand and sweeping book."
– The Times
"Nuanced, entertaining and balances eloquent story-telling with well-researched science [...] Anyone interested in their path through history, and what they may hand on, will find much to excite them."
– Book of the Week, New Scientist
"Fascinating [...] Absorbing [...] Deftly persuasive."
"This is cutting-edge stuff that could be heavy-going except that it is written by Carl Zimmer, one of our best science journalists [...] He makes complex topics accessible with his sparkling storytelling and beautiful writing [...] If you want to [...] know where the DNA revolution is headed, you can't do better than this book, which is a joy to read."
– Evening Standard
"She Has Her Mother's Laugh is a masterpiece – a career-best work from one of the world's premier science writers, on a topic that literally touches every person on the planet."
– Ed Yong, author of New York Times bestseller I Contain Multitudes and staff writer at The Atlantic
"Zimmer is a born story-teller. Or is he an inherited story-teller? The inspiring and heartbreaking stories in She Has Her Mother's Laugh build a fundamentally new perspective on what previous generations have delivered to us, and what we can pass along. An outstanding book and great accomplishment."
– Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music and The Organized Mind
"Extraordinary [...] This book is Zimmer at his best: obliterating misconceptions about science with gentle prose."
– New York Review of Books
"Expansive, engrossing, and often enlightening."
"Why do children look like their parents and siblings, but still differ from one another? [...] Engrossing [...] Zimmer's book is an excellent way to get up to speed."
– Washington Post
"She Has Her Mother's Laugh is at once far-ranging, imaginative, and totally relevant. Carl Zimmer makes the complex science of heredity read like a novel, and explains why the subject has been – and always will be – so vexed."
– Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Pulitzer Prize winner The Sixth Extinction