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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not just cellular biology here...and not just for scientists, July 17, 2000
This review is from: Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (Paperback)
Published in 1974, this book was a collection of short, mostly easily digestible essays that had originally appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. Sounds like it's going to be heady stuff, and the title suggests that we'll be dealing primarily (or solely) with cellular biology. Well, it's heady enough, but truly not inaccessible to the layman. And the essays cover a good deal more ground than microbiology.
I can't help wonder if we might have been better served if the subtitle "Notes of a Biology Watcher" had been the actual title. It might have kept many potential readers from being scared off. The actual themes covered range from bacilli to Bach, from lymphocytes to language. And by the time you've finished this collection, you'll be convinced of connections you never even considered before.
The trick is to get through the first essay, the essay that gives the volume its title. That's where you'll find most of the scientific vocabulary and jargon. Someone below suggested that you need a background in high school level biology to follow--well, I found college level biology didn't really help me all that much. Not panicking, and just plowing through seemed to do the trick for me. However, I did have a friend's advance warning that it would get better (meaning "easier," I'm sure) thereafter. And it did.
Thereby hangs my one criticism. A preface--maybe by someone like Joyce Carol Oates, who wrote the original NY Times review of the book--would have helped enormously. Something that in effect, said, "I'm a non-scientist too, and I loved it..." may have provided lay readers with enough encouragement to continue reading until, lo and behold, they start to "get it." And you will, if you have any interest at all in biological science and sufficient openness to begin to grasp what Lewis is putting forth here. What it all leads to is that sense of awe at the universe that author popular scientific writers (Sagan, Eiseley) also exhibit. But Lewis Thompson does it as well as anyone. I will be returning to his books again and again.
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