In my final decade of biology teaching, I began offering an annual end-of-year challenge to my 10th-graders. We finished up with a 12-week study of genetics, and my charge to the students was this: “If you work hard and devote yourself to the study of genetics throughout this unit, you will realize at the end that you have no idea what a gene is.”

There is no consensus on the definition of a gene, yet gene is a term we use, appropriately and effectively, throughout our discourse in biology. What a paradox!? Hans-Jörg Rheinberger and Staffan Müller-Wille have published a book that succinctly and brilliantly addresses this current state of things. Rheinberger is emeritus director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and Müller-Wille is codirector of the Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences at the University of Exeter.

In 10 brief chapters, the authors...

You do not currently have access to this content.