Carl Zimmer-She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers

Carl Zimmer


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.


She Has Her Mother's Laugh, Sponsored by HowStuffWorks

Award-winning, 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… 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.

This session is sponsored by HowStuffWorks.

Frans de Waal

Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal is a Dutch/American biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behavior and social intelligence of primates. In his first book, Chimpanzee Politics, he compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. His scientific work has been published in hundreds of technical articles in journals such as Science, Nature, Scientific American, and outlets specialized in animal behavior. His latest books are Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? and Mama’s Last Hug. De Waal is C. H. Candler Professor in the Psychology Department of Emory University and Director of the Living Links Center in Atlanta. He was selected in 2007 by Time as one of The Worlds’ 100 Most Influential People Today.

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

Every decade or so, a book comes along that changes something deep down in the way we think about what it means to be human. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by award-winning New York Times columnist and science writer Carl Zimmer is one of those books. It guides readers to a new understanding of what we have received from the generations past and what we can pass along to the future. While we may think we know what heredity is, Zimmer explains that we think about it in terms that are obsolete. Our genes are a shuffled sampling from our ancestors, mixed together in combinations of unfathomable complexity. Now we are gaining the power to rewrite genes in plants and animals—perhaps even humans—to pass down to future generations. A masterwork of science writing, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh is a tremendously compelling new book, already praised by leading scientists, bestselling authors, and the author’s peers in the top echelons of journalism.

We may think we know a lot about heredity but consider: there is more Neanderthal DNA on Earth today than when Neanderthals existed. Every European alive today is a descendant of Charlemagne. There is no single gene for height or intelligence. In fact, there are millions of our spots in our DNA that can influence those traits. So how is it that over the last few generations we have gotten taller and smarter? How could children’s cells, as we now know, become a part of their mothers, and possibly even protect them from breast cancer in later life?

Zimmer believes we urgently need a new definition of heredity given recent discoveries and our history of misusing such scientific knowledge. In this book, the most ambitious work of his career, Zimmer presents a historical and scientific account of heredity spanning millennia and culminating with essential insights into the awesome potential we have now acquired to shape our future. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh is the new definition of heredity that we need now. It has a surprise on almost every page as it builds a new definition of a fundamental concept in human economics, politics, and culture.

In lucid, artful prose, Zimmer weaves academic research, his own experience raising his two daughters and exploring his distant ancestors, and the kind of original reporting expected of one of the world’s best science journalists. From the first use of the Latin word hereditas by the Romans, to Darwin and Mendel, to the deeply disturbing rise of eugenics in the twentieth century, all the way up to this decade’s rapid rise of CRISPR gene editing technology, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh is both a landmark in biology, and a way to think about the parents and children you know.