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The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA Hardcover – January 16, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (January 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393081915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081916
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

With a novelist's gift for story and insight, an artist's appreciation for the stark beauty of the Southwest, and a passion for scientific investigation, Wheelwright addresses the thorny implications of genetics and portrays a family bravely facing a tragic consequence of a long-hidden legacy.
        --Booklist


As humankind becomes more technologically sophisticated, identity becomes both more fluid and more fixed...Mr. Wheelwright tiptoes with impressive agility through the minefield; this is one of the rare books on this vexed subject that get the technical stuff right.
      --Charles C. Mann, The Wall Street Journal


From breast cancer to secret Jewish rituals, hidden links signify unlikely kinships in this meditative exploration of racial connectedness....[A] sensitive account of how a modern identity is woven from ancient physical and spiritual strands.
  --Publishers Weekly


Wheelwright is a marvelously intelligent writer with a lyrical bent that complements his scientific rigor. His compassionate account of such complex subjects is both engaging and enlightening.
       --Irene Wanner, Seattle Times


...clear-eyed journalism and his deft handling of so many different, complex strands -- the science, the history, the stories of Shonnie and her family, thorny issues of race and religion -- are Wheelwright's real achievement.
        --Barbara Spindel, BarnesandNobleReview.com

From the Back Cover

"At once an involving mystery, a tale of love and tragedy, an interreligious adventure, and a scientific quest, all set against a sere and stunning Southwestern landscape. A finely crafted, compassionate, fascinating book."
  --Melvin Konner, author of The Jewish Body and Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews

More About the Author

Jeff Wheelwright is a freelance journalist and the former science editor of Life magazine. He is the author of Degrees of Disaster, The Irritable Heart, and The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess. He lives on the Central Coast of California. More information is at jeffwheelwright.com.

Customer Reviews

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A must read if you love Science and tracking history.
funkyn
It was an intriguing story and very well written --- an engaging story and a fast read.
Cheryl Clement
Read this book in no time and shared it with so many others.
Maria

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Talbot-Bluechel on February 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book caught my eye the minute I saw it in the bookstore, and it didn't disappoint. My friend laughed, and said, "of course you would pick that one", which was true, it's my kind of book. Science, history, and religion, with a good story to tie it all together.

Mr. Wheelwright has clearly done his research. The genetics information is impressive in its scope, and yet delivered in a readable way. I learned a lot about the chronology of the gene sequencing discoveries which I did not know, and confirmed many things I already did.

A lot of the information is gathered from Jewish studies, as the BRCA 185delAG gene is found almost exclusively in that gene pool, which is a fascinating side bar of conventions and controversies as well

I have a friend who was undergoing preventative oopherectomy after discovering the BRCA gene when I began the book, and recovering from the reconstruction of her preventative mastectomy when I finished it, so it was an unbelievably timely read for me. The additional information about that gene helped make sense of a lot of things for me.

But it's not just a chick book. Mr. Wheelwright takes great care to weave the story of the family affected by the BRCA gene with the history of the New Mexico territory, the migration patterns of the Hispano settlers, and the religious beliefs, ethnic blends, and customs that impacted both of these. It is an amazing fabric when seen as a whole. As a "big picture person", I very much appreciated seeing the whole.

I can't wait to recommend this book to my book club, as I believe it has so many talking points and raises so many good questions, we will be up all night!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ashley McConnell on April 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
New Mexico's history comes alive through the framing device of one woman, whose death from breast cancer illuminates how one gene can be identified with a particular group of people, how that people's history can be forgotten, how genetic testing for a cancer gene (or more precisely, a broken cancer suppression gene) can become the subject of intense religious controversy, and how DNA can be used to trace surprising secrets. Because the book focuses on Shonnie Medina, it's being compared to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but it's as much about history and religion and a unique part of the United States as it is about science and the tragic death of young one woman. If you're from NM, as I am, this book is a must read; if you're interested in Jewish history, in DNA mapping, or the role history and religion play in modern-day controversies about genetic testing, this is one you'll like.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alan Boehmer on May 10, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Carefully researched and brilliantly written, Wheelwright's engaging book is difficult to put down. It should be of interest to anyone concerned with the effects of genetics across multiple generations and should be required reading for everyone of Jewish ancestry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sandy Hack on March 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The two stories in this book would appear to be unrelated at first glance:
(1) Origins of the isolated Hispano community of northern New Mexico and Colorado's San Luis Valley, including their American Indian and Spanish heritage.
(2) Research into genetic genealogy and DNA analysis leading to the discovery of the breast cancer mutation BRCA.185delAG.

Jeff Wheelwright brings a clear discussion to the story of the Hispano community and their link to Jewish ancestry going back approximately 2000 years. His writing at times is not as succinct as I would have liked but he successfully takes the reader into the lives of Shonnie Medina, who lost her life to breast cancer at a young age, and her extended family. The genealogy of this community is fascinating and the discussion of current advances in DNA analysis is of equal value. Wheelwright respects the reader's intelligence without becoming lost in scientific jargon. I was left wanting to learn more, and the Notes section at the book's end has a wealth of additional resources for the reader.
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Format: Kindle Edition
For some time I have been searching for a book similar to Rebecca Skloot's book about Henrietta Lacks. Jeff Wheelwright's book examines the population genetics of a particular BRCA1 mutation. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 (breast cancer 1 and 2) genes were first linked to heritable breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) in the early nineties. Since the initial discovery of the genes, scientists have identified many mutations in BRCA1 and 2 that are linked with HBOC as well as other cancers.

The subtitle of the book is definitely a good representation of what is inside; each of these topics seemed to get equal treatment. When the focus was on the DNA or race, the book held my interest. However, when the focus was more on religion, I found myself skipping pages. I didn't see how the history and beliefs of the Jehovah's witnesses helped the reader understand the genetics of this mutation. There were some surface similarities with Rebecca Skloot's book, as both have a very strong human angle. The book was a quick read, it taught me some new things about population genetics and BRCA mutations, and it served as an excellent jumping-off point for me to learn more.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book had a fascinating blend of history and science. It was an intriguing story and very well written --- an engaging story and a fast read.
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