The Lives of a Cell in the 570’s

Title: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher
Author: Lewis Thomas
Source: library
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary: This collection of short but thought-provoking essays is sometimes humorous, sometimes inspiring, and always an insightful, approachable look at some of the wonders of biology.

Although written in the 1970’s, these essays by Lewis Thomas cover subjects that are still some of the most interesting questions in biology today.  From the awe-inspiring complexity of a single cell to our approach to curing diseases, from how our interactions compare to those of social insects to the health care system, the essays in this book will give you a new appreciation for biology and a unique, thoughtful perspective on these fascinating topics.  Every time I finished an essay, I was struck by the thought that surely no one really just sits down and writes essays like this any more.  More than anything else, the author reminded me of a naturalist, someone from the early twentieth century simply observing, wondering at, and trying to learn from nature.

As a scientist, I want that.  Every day, I work at science and occasionally I get the feeling this book captures; a feeling of stepping back and no longer working at science, but wondering at it.  In every essay, Thomas writes about biology in a deceptively casual, meditative manner which requires intimate knowledge of so much science just to be able to connect the concepts he uses to draw the bigger picture.  And he doesn’t just write about it in a science-y way.  I think anyone, even a non-scientist, could pick this book up and appreciate the poetic beauty with which he describes life.  They might even learn a little biology along the way.

I know I’m handing out 5 star reviews like candy this week, but this another book where all I can say is: read this!  The essays are each short, all under 10 pages, and they’re written in a very approachable way.  I would highly recommend this book to a book club or even a journal club for all the thought provoking ideas it presents, as well as to any scientist because occasionally we need to be reminded just how awesome what we’re doing really is.



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4 responses to “The Lives of a Cell in the 570’s

  1. Great review! I’m not a science person per say, but I occasionally like to indulge in something different. My biggest issue is always whether or not I’ll be able to understand the science lingo. It’s not easy for authors of the science persuasion to break down these concepts for people like myself. Those who do certainly deserve to be celebrated! It sounds like Lewis Thomas had that rare talent.

    • Thanks! I would recommend this to non-science people for sure, although more as a way to appreciate the beauty of science then to learn about it. That’s just the sort of book it is 🙂

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