Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene by Masha Gessen

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Stars: ****1/2

This was a very interesting read but it took me a while to get through it and a week to write the review. It is also being counted towards the Pub 08 Challenge.

Put simply, it’s a book about genes and how we’ve gone from just learning about them to using them to diagnosis illness before it shows symptoms and how they are beginning to be used so conceive children with certain characteristics.

The book starts out with a discussion of breast cancer and the Ashkenazi BRC1 and BRC2 gene mutation. Women with one of these genes have an incredibly heightened risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. The risk is so high, many chose to have preventative mastectomies (removing the breasts) and/or oophorectomies (removing the ovaries.) As I went through these first few chapters, I thought the whole book would be just the story of the author’s journey while dealing with the discovery of and decisions that go with her mutant gene. The book is more than that though. It was the author’s experience that pushed her towards researching the front lines of genetics.

The book touches on rare diseases, rare procedures and a place that does genetic testing to all Jewish teenagers so that when the family finds someone they believe to be a suitable mate to their teen, they can call this place and give the names of their teen and the other teen and they are told if they are okay from a genetic viewpoint. What this means is if both have a gene for the same recessive disorder than their resulting children could have the disease. As long as they don’t have recessive genes for the same disorder they are told the match is okay. This is a very interesting and controversial way to use genetics.

It took me long to read it because it’s one of those books where you need at least some concentration so I couldn’t read it when my kid’s were awake which really limited my reading time. It’s not that it was dry or hard to digest. It is written beautifully; very easy to follow when you have some silence.

I found a lot of the material very interesting. I’ve always been interested in the basics of genetics, especially when it comes to what’s inherited and what’s not and how what genes are passed on is determined. However I’ve never really followed the whole stem-cell debate nor the “designer babies” that are starting to be conceived and born. I learned a lot from this book and I have found that I am even more interested in genetics that I thought.

I recommend this book to anyone who fits into one or more of the following: is an Ashkenazi Jew, who has a large incidence of a certain disease in the family, who is interested in genetics, who has considered trying to conceive a donor-matching sibling for their child, who wants to be informed about where genetics is heading in the future or who is concerned with the prevalence of inherited illnesses.

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.