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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
"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.
About the Author
Carl Zimmer writes the Matter column for the New York Times and has frequently contributed to The Atlantic, National Geographic, Time, and Scientific American, among others. He has won the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Science Journalism Award three times, among a host of other awards and fellowships. He teaches science writing at Yale University. His previous books include Parasite Rex, Evolution and Microcosm.
Praise for She Has Her Mother’s Laugh
“Extraordinary...This book is Zimmer at his best: obliterating misconceptions about science with gentle prose. He brings the reader on his journey of discovery as he visits laboratory after laboratory, peering at mutant mosquitoes and talking to scientists about traces of Neanderthal ancestry within his own genome. Any fan of his previous books or his journalism will appreciate this work. But so, too, will parents wishing to understand the magnitude of the legacy they’re bequeathing to their children, people who want to grasp their history through genetic ancestry testing and those seeking a fuller context for the discussions about race and genetics so prevalent today.”
—The New York Times Book Review
"Zimmer dispels longstanding scientific misconceptions, introduces facts that may surprise you and brings readers on a delightful journey of genetic discovery."
—The New York Times, "Paperback Row"
“Magisterial...In Zimmer’s pages, we discover a world minutely threaded with myriad streams of heredity flowing in all directions, in variegated patterns and different registers.”
"The strength of [She Has Her Mother's Laugh]...is its combination of accuracy, journalistic clarity and scientific authority...If the science doesn’t matter to you now, it will soon."
—The Washington Post
“Zimmer is careful and well-informed... Acquired traits can be inherited. Biological time can turn backward. And monsters are real.”
—Wall Street Journal
"Carl Zimmer’s magnum opus, probing myriad strands of science through the prism of decadeslong, stellar reporting, and a leading contender as the most outstanding nonfiction work of the year…a lush, enthralling book that transforms the reader with its insights.”
“Expansive, engrossing, and often enlightening... Zimmer takes readers on a tale through time and technology, from the inbred Holy Roman Empire to the birthplace of American eugenics to the Japanese lab where scientists are reprogramming skin cells into eggs and sperm."
“A chronicle of timeless values, and the permanent importance of bonds of kinship and the passing of generations in human culture. It is also a stark caution against human hubris, as the early decades of hereditary science show just how much damage science can cause when it’s poorly done and unethically applied. Finally, it is a wondrous exposé of the rapid-fire results and advances being made in 21st-century genetics, and the social and cultural consequences that they might unleash.”
"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... She Has Her Mother's Laugh is, as promised, a showcase of the powers, perversions and potential of what we truly gain from our past and pass on to our future.”
“A beguiling narrative… Whatever your views on the power of genes versus other forms of heredity, you will be in for a few surprises.”
"Into this zeitgeist enters Carl Zimmer’s most enjoyable new book, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, with a sweeping overview of the history of our understanding of heredity… [He is] one of the best science journalists of our time.”
“A magnificent work...Journalist Zimmer masterfully blends exciting storytelling with first-rate science reporting. His book is as engrossing as it is enlightening.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A thoroughly enchanting tour of big questions, oddball ideas, and dazzling accomplishments of researchers searching to explain, manipulate, and alter inheritance.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A wide-ranging and eye-opening inquiry into the way heredity shapes our species.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Zimmer’s latest offers a comprehensive look at all aspects of heredity in readable and accessible text for anyone interested in the topic.”
“This massive, multifaceted account of heredity's history and possible future illuminates the subject as something much more complex than genes passed from generation to generation.”
“A story filled with palace intrigue and breathtaking innovation.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
"This is clearly Zimmer’s best book. It’s an opus in which he goes through the entire history of genetics and epigenetics, and writes about getting his own genome sequenced too. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh is one of the best books ever written about genetics, along with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene. They’re the two bookends."
—Science Friday, Best Science Books of 2018
"A rich and wide-ranging exploration of the mysterious science that makes us, somehow, who we are.”
—Jamie Green, Thrillist's Best Books of 2018
“No one unravels the mysteries of science as brilliantly and compellingly as Carl Zimmer, and he has proven it again with She Has Her Mother’s Laugh—a sweeping, magisterial book that illuminates the very nature of who we are.”
—David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z
“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-winning The Sixth Extinction
“Humans have long noticed something remarkable, namely that organisms are similar but not identical to their parents—in other words, that some traits can be inherited. From this observation has grown the elegant science of genetics, with its dazzling medical breakthroughs. And from this has also grown the toxic pseudosciences of eugenics, Lysenkoism and Nazi racial ideology. Carl Zimmer traces the intertwined histories of the science and pseudoscience of heredity. Zimmer writes like a dream, teaches a ton of accessible science, and provides the often intensely moving stories of the people whose lives have been saved or destroyed by this topic. I loved this book.”
—Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University, author of Behave
“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 I Contain Multitudes
“Nobody writes about science better than Carl Zimmer. As entertaining as he is informative, he has a way of turning the discoveries of science into deeply moving human stories. This book is a timely account of the uses and misuses of some of the science that directly impact our lives today. It is also a career moment by one of our most important and graceful writers. Here is a book to be savored.”
—Neil Shubin, University of Chicago, author of Your Inner Fish
“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
“One of the most gifted science journalists of his generation, Carl Zimmer tells a gripping human story about heredity from misguided notions that have caused terrible harm to recent ongoing research that promises to unleash more powerful technologies than the world has ever known. The breadth of his perspective is extraordinarily compelling, compassionate, and valuable. Please read this book now.”
—Jennifer Doudna, UC Berkeley, coauthor of A Crack in Creation
“Carl Zimmer lifts off the lid, dumps out the contents, and sorts through the pieces of one of history's most problematic ideas: heredity. Deftly touching on psychology, genetics, race, and politics, She Has Her Mother's Laugh is a superb guide to a subject that is only becoming more important. Along the way, it explains some remarkably complicated science with equally remarkable clarity—a totally impressive job all around.”
—Charles C. Mann, author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
“Carl Zimmer is not only among my favorite science writers—he’s also now responsible for making me wonder why there is more Neanderthal DNA on earth right now than when Neanderthals were here, and why humanity is getting taller and smarter in the last few generations. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh explains how our emerging understanding of genetics is touching almost every part of society, and will increasingly touch our lives.”
—Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better and The Power of Habit
“With this book, Carl Zimmer rises from being our best biological science writer to being one of our very best non-fiction writers in any field, period.”
—Kevin Padian, professor of integrative biology, UC Berkeley
“How every characteristic—from genes to personality—is passed down from one generation to the next is one the most fundamental, complex, misunderstood and misused enigmas of biology. In this beautifully written, heartfelt and enjoyable masterpiece, Zimmer weaves together history, autobiography and science to elucidate the mysteries of heredity and why we should care. I couldn’t put this book down, and can’t recommend it too highly.”
—Daniel E. Lieberman, Harvard University, author of The Story of the Human Body
“She Has Her Mother’s Laugh is at once enlightening and utterly compelling. Carl Zimmer weaves spellbinding narrative with luminous science writing to give us the story of heredity, the story of us all. Anyone interested in where we came from and where we are going—which is to say everyone—will want to read it.”
—Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds and Chance in the House of Fate
“Traversing time and societies, the personal and the political, the moral and the scientific, She Has Her Mother's Laugh takes readers on an endlessly mesmerizing journey of what it means to be human. Carl Zimmer has created a brilliant canvas of life that is at times hopeful, at times horrifying, and always beautifully rendered. I could hope for no better guide into the complexities, perils, and, ultimately, potential of what the science of heredity has in store for the world.”
—Maria Konnikova, author of The Confidence Game
“With his latest work, Zimmer has assured his place as one of the greatest science writers of our time. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh is an extraordinary exploration of a topic that is at once familiar and foreign, and touches every one of us. With the eloquence of a poet and the expertise of a scientist Zimmer has created a nonfiction thriller that will change the way you think about your family, those you love, and the past and future.”
—Brian Hare, Duke University, coauthor of The Genius of Dogs
“Zimmer offers a compelling look at genetics...You will leave this book realizing how little we know about how we come to be.”