The Lives of A Cell by Lewis Thomas

April 19, 2008
By
“The earth is like a single cell.” (Thomas 12)
Seemingly paradoxical and puzzlingly counterintuitive, The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas goes to argue that the world is indeed like a cell, along with many other points. Forming numerous connections between the human condition and the way any other biological organism works, Thomas cleverly gives his readers a tour of general cell biology that nearly anybody can understand. What sets this apart from any other didactic biology textbook is that Thomas injects biology with thought, analogy, and metaphor while also explaining relatively recent discoveries and delving a bit into the history of biological discoveries. It's almost like a biology-centric version of those “school-can-be-fun” videos we had to watch in elementary school, except more gracefully delivered, mature, and thought-provoking.

The personification of biological systems and theories adds a new dimension to the normal biology curriculum. By calling “flagellae” on a certain type of cell “outsiders, in help with the business: fully formed, perfect spirochetes that have attached themselves at regularly spaced intervals all over the surface of the protozoan,” (Thomas 32) Thomas is basically telling the readers that the system applies at all levels, no matter the size—be it an entire world of people, or a microscopic cell that can only be seen with a powerful electron scanning microscope. He invites us to see the system from multiple views.
He explores the hypothetical and the quietly obvious, which is actually where the strength of this book lies: of course everything dies. Of course communication is important to getting things done. But what makes this collection of essays so enticing is that Thomas flips our perspectives on these simple matters, even at times poking fun at our neurotic human nature or our views on science. He brings up the oddest, yet simplest questions: What if we are the product of bacteria and viruses? What if they make us for their survival and not vice versa? It is all a very interesting take on a variation of the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” question, and Thomas is there for the entire way to reason back and forth with his readers, unpretentious, witty humor and all.
Backed by degrees from Princeton and Harvard, along with a job as dean at Yale Medical School, it's pretty difficult to doubt what this guy has to say on biology. It is obvious that the author is well-versed enough to reason back and forth with such adroitness, and as readers and appreciators of biology, we can only nod emphatically to these eyebrow-raising connections we are presented, taking a much longer time to ponder it out afterwards. The book lends a sort of humanistic, lively face on biology; it softens the edges of what many people have always thought of as some sort of inaccessible science meant for daunting scientists in white coats locked away in labs.





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zeppelin1585@aol.com said...
Oct. 27, 2010 at 10:38 am
This not a good book review, I'm sorry but its too opinionated
 
hedgewitch replied...
Nov. 10, 2014 at 6:37 am
You are confusing a review with a summary. A review focuses on why you should read the book, rather than what is in it, so t HAS to state opinions.
 
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