Sign up to the Newsletter for the latest news from the Baillie Gifford Prize

You are here

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

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

An exploration of the most intimate mystery of all: how our ancestors help make us who we are. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh traces the history of heredity, both as a scientific question and a cultural touchstone.

What individuals do and do not inherit from their parents has fascinated humanity since Aristotle, if not before. Over recent centuries, decades and even years, science has
learned much that Aristotle could not have known, yet still too much of popular and media discussion revolves around the 'nature/nurture debate'.

The birth of genetics in the early 1900s seemed to solve the scientific question of heredity, but, Zimmer argues that 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. Zimmer helps to forge a new definition of heredity through lucid exposition and storytelling.


Judges’ comment: “Much has been said about race, genes and heredity without so adeptly overlaying the social and cultural implications. Writing clearly without condescension, Zimmer ties together countless decades of research, human life and geopolitical examples. This is an illuminating book which reads as a current summation of human knowledge yet doesn't promise that we know it all.”

About the Author

Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer is a popular science writer and blogger who specialises in evolution and parasites. He has contributed to such publications as The New York Times, Discover and National Geographic. He is a fellow at Yale University’s Morse College.