Seems like every time I pick up a good novel lately, I find themes of family history. The latest is the current best seller, Defending Jacob by William Landay. I decided to read the book because it concerns an assistant district attorney who defends his son against a murder charge. As a former assistant D.A. myself, I thought the moral and legal questions would be interesting. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author explored genetic and genealogical questions as well!
Landay explores the concept of whether some people are genetically disposed towards violence. In his author blog, Landay cites the case of an Italian appellate court that reduced a man's sentence (for the American equivalent of second degree murder/manslaughter) because the man had five genes that have been linked to violent behavior. Although Landay notes that, in the United States, "the murder gene" is not accepted as evidence in the criminal justice system, the questions he raises in the novel are intriguing to any family historian. After all, many people are quick to credit their genes for desirable family traits like athleticism or musical talent. Can we blame our shortcomings or predilection to violence on our genes? Interesting issues indeed!
LINK: Wm. Landay discusses the "murder gene" in his blog for his new book Defending Jacob