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Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher [Paperback]

by Lewis Thomas
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 23, 1978 0140047433 978-0140047431

Elegant, suggestive, and clarifying, Lewis Thomas's profoundly humane vision explores the world around us and examines the complex interdependence of all things.  Extending beyond the usual limitations of biological science and into a vast and wondrous world of hidden relationships, this provocative book explores in personal, poetic essays to topics such as computers, germs, language, music, death, insects, and medicine.  Lewis Thomas writes, "Once you have become permanently startled, as I am, by the realization that we are a social species, you tend to keep an eye out for the pieces of evidence that this is, by and large, good for us."

Frequently Bought Together

Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher + The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher + The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine-Watcher (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Series)
Price for all three: $36.11

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 153 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (February 23, 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140047433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140047431
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what many expect, but outstanding. May 12, 2000
A group of students and I just finished reading THE LIVES OF A CELL as part of a readings in biology seminar this spring. Once you read the first 3-4 chapters it becomes obvious that there is not a central theme (or is there) for the book.
Contents of this book are a compilation of reflective articles originally published in a medical journal. Chapter topics range all over the place, but they present many topics drawn from biological thought prominent through the mid-1970s -- everything from molecular biology to Gaia to sociobiology.
There is a wealth of material here appropriate for discussion among undergraduate students, professionals, and perhaps even science-directed high school students. Each of the 29 chapters are about 3-5 pages long, can be easily digested, and beg to be reflected upon and discussed.
As for the writing, other Amazon reviewers have referred to the writing in this book as being poetic. While I didn't see so much of that, I was struck by Thomas' ability to turn a phrase, make a point, and discuss complex biological ideas in a manner that is easily understood. The writing in the book is a definite plus.
There are also times in the book where I can imagine Thomas grinning as he wrote, or, perhaps giving the occasional wink! He must have had a wonderful sense of humor.
OK, back to the theme...if there is seems to me that one common theme of several of the chapters has to do with communication -- oral, chemical, behavioral, and genetic. Other possible themes include the fact that humans are "not all that." That we are part of the global system, not running it. Another possibility includes the idea that everything can be an analogy of the way that a cell works -- organelles, membranes, cellular processes, products, and so forth.
This is excellent reading for anyone interested in ideas about life and living. Well written, occasionally humorous, and intruiging.
5 stars!
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AWESOME! A DEFINITE FOR ALL STUDENTS! August 4, 2000
What can one say if you believe to have found the 'John Steinbeck' of science! I totally enjoyed his descriptive readings and perspectives of our magnificient world! Lewis Thomas has done an excellent job interpreting his thoughts on life through the language of science. He blends the two so delicately and precisely, that one starts to forget where the line between real life and scientific theory is drawn. Lewis Thomas found joy in science and it is illustrated in his essays. He manages to show the reader a peek at how a scientist like himself looks at the world.
I have chosen this book as one for all of my ninth grade Honors Biology students to read and report about. The book definitely makes the reader 'think' will not be able to just read one page after the will need to keep a dictionary close by. Thomas uses quite alot of scientific terminology. It is definitely not for the lazy reader. It is for those individuals who read to learn more and enjoy the challenge of new vocabulary to broaden their own horizons in science or language itself. I enjoy giving my students a challenge and that is exactly what this book offers to the young mind.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biology On A Cellular Level: Impressive February 3, 2004
Lewis Thomas' book is a beautifully written collection of essays. He writes much in the style of the 13th century author Frederick Montaigne, whom he later writes an essay about in another book. The essays, combine to bring a truly penultimate view of biological life. His observations, more than conclusions, bring one very close to a belief that in some way, all life is connected.

In a particularly interesting essay on "organelles" Thomas points out that mitochondria, the engines of the cell in every animal, do not exchange DNA like every other part of the body in sexual procreation, but in fact, are passed directly from the ovum to the zygote in the cytoplasm, and never change or recombine their DNA.
This apparently being a protective mechanism developed over 100's of thousands of years because the preservation of the exact mitochondrial DNA sequence is so important, that it could not be left to chance, as are most every other characteristic of the animal.
Throughout the book, Thomas reveals truly extraordinary facts about biology and microbiology that tend to leave the reader in actual awe. For an incredibly interesting and fast education about cellular biology this National Book Award Winning collection is truly a fascinating read.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short tales of biological fascination April 24, 2001
At less than 150 pages, this book is packed with more biological insights than stupendous stacks of others. Dr. Thomas's description of how eukaryotic cells arose is a true marvel of how life adapts. He makes strong arguments that the biological norm is not competition but cooperation. The cells of our bodies were constructed when separate species of bacteria somehow decided that their long-term survival would be enhanced if they were to combine their specialized functions into a single cell. Such an event is truly extraordinary and may be the real miracle of life. It could turn out that simple single-celled life arises quite easily, but the combining of the separate species into a new, more complex cell is the rare event. Since it is apparently necessary for it to occur for intelligence to arise, that may be the reason why there is such an interstellar silence of signals from other intelligent species.
Despite his status as a physician, the author is also realistic about medicine. He describes his informal poll that physicians families receive less medical intervention than others and yet there is no alteration in their patterns of illness. His theses about how we generally get better more because it is in the nature of things for us to recover from illness than anything medical is advice that more people should take. He also argues that disease causing organisms are most often biological accidents, where the error is sometimes found on the human side. In these cases, the disease is a consequence of our bodies overreacting to the situation rather than anything the "infectious" agent does.
I was pointed towards this book by a college professor who told me that it would teach me more about biology than my current texts ever could. She was right and I learned much concerning how to marvel about what biology is all about from this book. Armed with that knowledge, it became, and still is, the most exciting subject I have ever studied.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars i though this book was a study guide
though this book was a study guide so I bough it waited until it came in the mail . and
Published 25 days ago by flugazy
2.0 out of 5 stars Dated and "heavy"
This is a classic, which is why I picked is up: but it's dated and stilted. It's what we would today think of as blog posts - insightful discussions on topics that have a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Lisa
5.0 out of 5 stars My sentiments exactly
I am pleased to find someone who thinks the same way I do about the creative forces that negate entropy.
Published 2 months ago by Kristin Ohman
1.0 out of 5 stars Drives me to Yell... "Why?!"
I've been looking forward to reading this book for quite a while--partially because it has gotten such good reviews on Amazon, and partially because I like reading essays on... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Roy
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorites
This is a book I often go back to just to read a chapter on ("Ceti" is my favorite). Very conversational in style and the author has a great way of putting somewhat... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Sami
5.0 out of 5 stars Review for Lives of a Cell : Notes of a Biology Watcher
The book was in really good shape based on the covers and that no pages were ripped, but the pages were a bit yellowed. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Patryk Antolak
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the best from the best
A tour de force by the rennaisance man of medicine, writing, and humanity. He expresses great wisdom in beautifully flowing words. Appropriate for anyone who cares about life.
Published 9 months ago by Jack EPstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Lewis Thomas writes warmly as though we are having a face to face...
This may sound trite but our cells are really a part of us and they are miraculous. They function 24/7 without our being aware of them and, for the most part, without a high... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Richard Mussett
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book about life and science ever
I read this book many years ago, have purchased dozens to give away to friends, and still more to replace my copy that I promised never to let out of my home. Read more
Published 10 months ago by susan b bellin
5.0 out of 5 stars Lewis Thomas is a biological poet
Between this and 'Medusa and the Snail', my assumption that one is either logical or creative has been blown out of the water. Thanks.
Published 10 months ago by sugarspicechemx
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