- Paperback: 153 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Later Printing edition (February 23, 1978)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140047433
- ISBN-13: 978-0140047431
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 107 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher Later Printing Edition
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About the Author
Lewis Thomas was a physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, policy advisor, and researcher. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Medical School, he was the dean of Yale Medical School and New York University School of Medicine, and the president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute. He wrote regularly in the New England Journal of Medicine, and his essays were published in several collections, including The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, which won two National Book Awards and a Christopher Award, and The Medusa and the Snail, which won the National Book Award in Science. He died in 1993.
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Top customer reviews
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Thomas doesn't talk down to the average reader but does introduce many scientific terms to stimulate our thumbing through our dictionaries.
From the first chapter: "The viruses, instead of being single-minded agents of disease and death, now begin to look more like mobile genes...We live in a dancing matrix of viruses; they dart, rather like bees, from organism to organism, from plant to insect to mammal to me and back again, and into the sea, tugging along pieces of this genome, strings of genes from that, transplanting grafts of DNA, passing around heredity as though at a great party."
Although there is no continuity from chapter to chapter, there are consistent threads of thought as the author free associates:
1.There is a joyful attitude about science and discovery and abundant tidbits about the goings on of living things.
2.There is constant reference to the interaction, symbiosis, and co-operative living arrangements amongst the different species.
3.There are numerous references to the mindless activities of ants, bees, and termites, whose activities create sophisticated, developed projects without any evidence of central control. These examples are repeatedly compared to humans and their social activities, with the human emphasis being on language.
4.The cell is the unit of life, complete with all its intricate inner workings. The cell membrane (cell wall in plants) is the protective layer that makes this unit of life possible.
In the first chapter and frequently throughout, the author wants to think of the earth as a kind of organism, but he can't make it work - too big, too complex, too many working parts without visible connections. Then in the last chapter, a better analogy emerges. The earth is like a huge cell and the protective atmosphere that shields us from meteors and cosmic rays is our cell membrane.
This fine book is a precursor to books from the likes of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Jay Gould. Reading the chapters randomly is not a bad idea - each one is only four to six pages long and each gives the reader plenty to think about. Amazingly, after 30 years, there is a little - but not much - in this book that is out of date. If you are a little rusty on biology, have your "Oxford Dictionary of Science" handy. First Class.