The best genetics books

7 authors have picked their favorite books about genetics and why they recommend each book.

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The Century of the Gene

By Evelyn Fox Keller,

Book cover of The Century of the Gene

Genes have variously been described as selfish and controlling—as providing a blueprint or a program for development—as even “the cell’s brain”. These descriptions of genes get in the way of our understanding of what genes actually do—and what they don’t (and cannot) do. Evelyn Fox Keller provides an antidote to the simplistic notions of genes that permeate our society and infect our scientific discourse. She carefully walks us through the history of the field and provides us with a much more realistic view of the intricacies of DNA. By the end of this marvelous book, you may not even think that genes are a thing at all.

Who am I?

Even though I am a scientist who has written over 130 scientific articles, I have a longstanding passion for scientific books that are written for non-scientists. I love books about science, no matter how distant they are from my area of expertise. To me, the best science books convey the excitement of science and scientific thinking in an accessible manner, but without pandering or dumbing things down. My favorite books tackle big ideas and respect the reader’s intelligence. My choices here reflect my core interests in biology, evolution, and behavior—and the aesthetics of science, too. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

I wrote...

Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution

By Mark S. Blumberg,

Book cover of Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution

What is my book about?

In most respects, Abigail and Brittany Hensel are normal American twins. Born and raised in a small town, they enjoy a close relationship, though each has her own tastes and personality. But the Hensels also share a body. Their two heads sit side-by-side on a single torso, with two arms and two legs. Abigail and Brittany, and others like them, open an extraordinary window onto human—and animal—development and evolution. 

In Freaks of Nature, Blumberg turns a scientist's eye on the oddities of nature, showing how a subject once relegated to the sideshow can help explain some of the deepest complexities of biology. What we need to understand, Blumberg argues, is that anomalies are the natural products of development, and it is through developmental mechanisms that evolution works. 

The Rosie Project

By Graeme Simsion,

Book cover of The Rosie Project

This novel has stayed with me because it is a unique story from the perspective of a character with Asperger's. I fell in love with the main character's personality and how he takes on every situation he finds himself in. Seeing and understanding that he is in love was no different. I couldn’t help but root for this character as he unravels what love is. There are three books in this series. They are all amazing if you are looking for something new and different.

Who am I?

Like many, I am a sucker for a Happy Ever After. I want to drift upon the clouds of peaceful surrender. But let's face it, we hurdle back to reality and face plant. And because of that, I write romance with the heartache of truth. I gravitate toward contemporary romance because of the tough topics characters face as they find love. I’ve written seven romance novels and one YA. I run three writing groups and work for Munchkin Lane developing/designing Early Childhood Readers. I have a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in Young Adult and a bachelor's in creative writing. 

I wrote...

Midnight's Dream: Book One of the Verbecks of Idaho

By R.E.S. Tidmore,

Book cover of Midnight's Dream: Book One of the Verbecks of Idaho

What is my book about?

Emma Verbeck has always lived in the shadows of her older brothers. After a tragic accident befalls the Verbeck family, her loving brothers are too overprotective, and Emma has been struggling ever since to find her own voice. Her sensitive and empathetic nature as the town doctor offers her an identity all to herself.

In the first book of the Verbecks of Idaho series, the past has the power to turn lives upside down and family loyalties are tested. This is a story about love against all odds and learning how to forgive.

Resident Evil

By S.D. Perry,

Book cover of Resident Evil: Code Veronica

I have always loved the hapless heroes and gruesome thrills of the Resident Evil video game series! When a friend bought me this book, I was a bit skeptical at first, but it quickly became my favorite book series I’ve ever read! It builds depth and likability into the characters and situation beyond what the games have ever achieved, and it’s just fun to spend some more time with zombies and other horrifying creatures! S.D. Perry is definitely one of the biggest influences on my early writing.

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by horror, particularly the dark and imagination-inciting creatures produced by it (even though I’m a big scaredy-cat, haha!). In a time when slasher films and haunted houses tend to dominate the horror genre, I set out to create a creature-feature similar to the 80s and early 90s classics I grew up with (Aliens, The Thing, Phantoms, Dawn of the Dead). I fell in love with creating truly nightmarish monstrosities and deep, vulnerable but strong characters to battle them. The books on this list are definitely huge inspirations in my own work, so I hope you enjoy the beasties in them as much as I have!

I wrote...

Pandora (The Organization)

By Joshua Grant,

Book cover of Pandora (The Organization)

What is my book about?

A cruise ship disappears without a trace, reemerging a week later and transmitting a single word: Pandora. Business tycoon and owner of the cruise line Patrick Carver sends a band of mercenaries to land on the ship and figure out what happened. For reasons beyond her, young doctor Aubrey Pittenger is chosen to go along for the ride. But all is not as it seems aboard the crumbling cruise liner, and evil comes in many forms. Now the ragtag team will have to band together in order to survive the night in this Aliens/The Thing homage horror thriller from the mind of bestselling author Joshua Grant!

The Genetic Lottery

By Kathryn Paige Harden,

Book cover of The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality

This begins as an exceptional introduction to genetics and the very latest technological and statistical methods. What sets this book apart, however, is the understanding of what genetics and inheritance mean, which took my breath away. 

For more than a century, the crusty old nature-nurture false dichotomy has dominated human understanding of inheritance and - especially - the genetics of behavior. Despite many valiant attempts, genetics has seldom managed to escape the legacy of eugenics and the towering figures of Galton, Pearson and Fisher. Harden provides a refreshing, coherent, powerful case that liberates genetic knowledge from eugenics, and places a modern understanding of genetics and what she calls ‘genetic luck’ at the centre of any program to improve society and achieve equality.

Both geneticists and those who think that only environmental (nurture-based) or technological solutions can improve societies have a lot to learn from this book. Hopefully, it will finally…

Who am I?

I’m a scientist who studies the evolutionary tussle between cooperation and conflict that makes sex so infernally complicated. I started out by studying small animals, but the last decade or so have seen an increasing focus on humans. At the same time I’ve been intent on sharing what I learn with curious audiences on television, radio, and in print. I lead a program at my university that introduced me to some amazing technology researchers, from engineers in AI and robotics to lawyers who work on privacy. That’s when I realized the value of evolutionary knowledge in understating the fast-paced technological revolution we are currently living through.

I wrote...

Artificial Intimacy: Virtual Friends, Digital Lovers, and Algorithmic Matchmakers

By Rob Brooks,

Book cover of Artificial Intimacy: Virtual Friends, Digital Lovers, and Algorithmic Matchmakers

What is my book about?

In Artificial Intimacy, evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks takes us from the origins of human behaviour to the latest in artificially intelligent technologies, providing a fresh and original view of the near future of human relationships.

Sex robots, social media, dating apps, and AI ‘friends’ are finding their way into our lives. Apps can sense when users are falling in love, when they are fighting, and when they are likely to break up. These machines, the ‘artificial intimacies,’ already learn how to exploit human social needs. And they are getting better and faster at what they do. This book isn’t just about the technology. It’s ultimately concerned with how humanity’s future will unfold as our ancient, evolved minds and old-fashioned cultures collide with twenty-first-century technology?

The Blank Slate

By Steven Pinker,

Book cover of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

First published 20 years ago by one of our best science writers, this book shattered the blank slate myth which dominated thinking at that time. The Blank Slate is a landmark against which I hope you will see how far we have come in recognizing the importance of genetics in psychology. The 2002 edition is still an excellent read but I recommend the updated 2016 edition with its new Afterword.

Who am I?

During my undergraduate studies in psychology, we were never exposed to genetics. In 1970, I began graduate training in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, which was one of the few universities that had a course about genetics in psychology. The course floored me, and I knew right away that I wanted to study genetic influences in psychology. At that time, psychology was generally hostile to the notion of genetic influence. Now, 50 years later, most psychologists recognize the importance of genetics. The DNA revolution is changing everything by making it possible to predict psychological traits using DNA alone. 

I wrote...

Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are

By Robert Plomin,

Book cover of Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are

What is my book about?

What made you the way you are? – your personality, your mental health, and your cognitive abilities. Professor Plomin’s book, Blueprint, is the culmination of his 45 years of research trying to understand the genetic and environmental influences that make us different, our nature and nurture. He is one of the world's top behavioral geneticists who offers a unique, insider's view of the exciting synergies that came from combining genetics and psychology.

In Blueprint, he concludes that inherited DNA differences are the major systematic force, the blueprint, that makes us who we are as individuals. The power to read our DNA blueprint will transform science, society, and how we understand ourselves.

She Has Her Mother's Laugh

By Carl Zimmer,

Book cover of She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

Carl Zimmer's authoritative writing, grounded in both science and journalism, reads and captivates like a page-turner novel. Written for a general audience, Zimmer's rich exploration of the history and controversies surrounding how we pass genes and associate traits from one generation to another also offer insights into a field of science central to social and cultural issues related to ancestry, race, sexual differences, evolution, as well as inherited traits and diseases.

Who am I?

K. Lee Lerner is an author, editor, and producer of science and factual media, including four editions of the Gale Encyclopedia of Science and the Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. His expansive writing on science, climate change, disasters, disease, and global issues has earned multiple book and media awards, including books named Outstanding Academic Titles. An aviator, sailor, and member of the National Press Club in Washington, his two global circumnavigations and portfolio of work in challenging and dangerous environments reveal a visceral drive to explore and investigate. With a public intellectual's broad palate and a scientist's regard for evidence-based analysis, Lerner dissects and accessibly explains complex issues. 

I wrote...

Biotechnology: In Context

By K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner

Book cover of Biotechnology: In Context

What is my book about?

Life is ancient, grounded in the physics, chemistry, and evolutionary biology of Earth. In contrast, today's biotechnology marshals new ideas and techniques with the potential to reshape the planet and life itself. The problems facing the world in fighting hunger, pollution, and disease cry out for innovative scientific solutions. For many, biotechnology offers a beacon of hope. For others, the manipulation of life sounds like a siren's song of peril.

The Gene

By Siddhartha Mukherjee,

Book cover of The Gene: An Intimate History

Genetic science is so new and so specialized that it almost has its own language, and yet it is changing the way we understand life and death, and bringing a new kind of medicine that will radically alter health and medicine in future generations. Mukherjee is the best of science writers, deploying beautiful metaphors to help readers grasp this complex subject.

Who am I?

I am a journalist and author who has been lucky enough to follow my curiosity wherever it led – from politics and presidents to climate change and crime. Most of my books explore a theme that fascinates me – the tension between science and religion, faith and reason, that is a defining challenge of our era. I have a deep respect for science, but, like most, an amateur’s understanding of it. The global pandemic has confirmed the need for accessible science writing to help us bring our understanding in line with what’s going on in the labs.

I wrote...

VIRUS: Vaccinations, the CDC and the Hjacking of America’s Response to he Pandemic

By Nina Burleigh,

Book cover of VIRUS: Vaccinations, the CDC and the Hjacking of America’s Response to he Pandemic

What is my book about?

Virus is a short book assessing what went wrong with the government response to the pandemic, what went right with the landmark COVID mRNA vaccine science, and the roots of the culture of conspiracy theories and disregard for expertise that has delayed our national recovery.

A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology

By Jim Endersby,

Book cover of A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology

A topsy-turvy look at biology from the point of view of the animals (and plants) that make it possible. Richly detailed and full of engrossing characters, from Darwin’s time up to the genetically engineered marvels of today.

Who am I?

Sam Kean is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, including The Bastard Brigade, The Dueling Neurosurgeons, and The Disappearing Spoon. He edited The Best American Nature and Science Writing in 2018, and his stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and Slate. His work has been featured on NPR’s “Radiolab,” “Science Friday,” “All Things Considered,” and “Fresh Air,” and his podcast, The Disappearing Spoon, debuted at #1 on the iTunes charts for science podcasts.

I wrote...

The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

By Sam Kean,

Book cover of The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

What is my book about?

From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes the gripping, untold history of science's darkest secrets. Science is a force for good in the world—at least usually. But sometimes, when obsession gets the better of scientists, they twist a noble pursuit into something sinister. Under this spell, knowledge isn’t everything, it’s the only thing—no matter the cost. Bestselling author Sam Kean tells the true story of what happens when unfettered ambition pushes otherwise rational men and women to cross the line in the name of science, trampling ethical boundaries and often committing crimes in the process.

Fear Nothing

By Dean Koontz,

Book cover of Fear Nothing

This book was my introduction to this famous horror author, and though occasionally Koontz gets repetitive with his characters and storylines, this was something out of the ordinary. We have a character that can only go out at night, and we have non-human escapees from a military research institute. A perfect mix for a gripping read, although for me I was sold on the friendships and relationships in this book. The lead character’s pet dog and his rich surfer dude friend and how they all interact with each other adds humour and lightness to a truly scary story that involves genetically modified animals who can understand humans. Again a supernatural and out-of-the-box story idea that kept me enthralled, and made it stand out.

Who am I?

I’m a writer who writes across genres but everything has a dark edge. As a reader I want to be able to relate, engage, and connect in some way to the characters and story, but as I come from an abusive childhood that means they can’t be light and fluffy, there has to be something off kilter and warped because that’s reflects how my life has been. In my own writing I try to do the same and create something that is emotive and real, while still allowing the reader to escape. I originate from Surrey, in the south of England, but I have lived in the Netherlands since 2002.

I wrote...

Dead Lake

By Miranda Kate,

Book cover of Dead Lake

What is my book about?

A new age witch called Tricky, has her obsidian stolen while being evicted from her home. To get it back she comes up against the head of the district, Randolf Carter, and his nasty secrets. Adept at working with energy and time, as well as communicating with trees, Tricky is drawn into something bigger than ownership of a gemstone.

How to Clone a Mammoth

By Beth Shapiro,

Book cover of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

Shapiro’s title is a bait-and-switch. She immediately makes clear in big block letters: "WE CAN’T CLONE A MAMMOTH!" It’s impossible. So what is she doing? Well, we can genetically rejigger Asian elephants to resemble woolly mammoths, and that could be useful. Erzats mammoths might help restore the Siberian tundra, and bioengineered, cold-adapted elephants could expand their range north, which would help them survive climate change. Shapiro has little patience for romantic visions of restoring extinct species, but she makes a compelling—and reassuring—case for how we can use bioengineering to save endangered species while they still exist.

Who am I?

As an author of YA science books (as well as being an editor), my goal is to inspire teens to think deeply about our world, but especially about our relationships with animals. To be honest, I knew bubkis about bioengineering until I was writing my previous book, Last of the Giants, about the extinction crisis. My head exploded as I learned how close we are to “de-extincting” lost species. The power that genetic engineering gives us to alter animals is unnerving, and it’s critical that we understand and discuss it. Bioengineering will change our future, and teens today will be the ones deciding how.    

I wrote...

Glowing Bunnies!? Why We're Making Hybrids, Chimeras, and Clones

By Jeff Campbell,

Book cover of Glowing Bunnies!? Why We're Making Hybrids, Chimeras, and Clones

What is my book about?

With modern bioengineering, science fiction’s “what if?” has become the scientist’s “why not?” Today, we have the tools to remake animals in almost any way we want, and genetic engineering is being used to help solve a range of urgent problems related to climate change, species extinctions, conservation, disease, human health, and the food industry. But as science fiction likes to warn us, altering animals isn’t without dangers, and it raises profound ethical questions. Glowing Bunnies!? explores how genetic engineering is currently reshaping animals and our world and asks that all-important question: Given what we can do, what should we do?

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