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


“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
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 the 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

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 impacts 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 storyteller. Or is he an inherited storyteller? 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 a great accomplishment.”

—Daniel Levitin, author of
This Is Your Brain on Music
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 past 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
The Power of Habit

“With this book, Carl Zimmer rises from being our best biological science writer to being one of our very best nonfiction 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 of 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
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


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Copyright © 2018 by Carl Zimmer

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Names: Zimmer, Carl, 1966- author.

Title: She has her mother's laugh : the powers, perversions, and potential of heredity / Carl Zimmer.

Other titles: What heredity is, is not, and may become

Description: New York, New York : Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House

LLC, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2017046101| ISBN 9781101984598 (hardcover) | ISBN 9781101984604 (ebook)

Subjects: | MESH: Heredity—genetics

Classification: LCC QH431 | NLM QU 500 | DDC 576.5—dc23

LC record available at

While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


To Grace, for spending this juncture between the past and the future with

The whole subject of inheritance is wonderful.


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