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Lives of a Cell, The
Lewis Thomas
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Lives of a Cell, The

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  4,765 ratings  ·  173 reviews
Anticipates the kind of writing that will appear more and more frequently as scientists take on the language of poetry in order to communicate human truths too mysterious for old-fashioned common sense.

Elegant, suggestive, and clarifying, Lewis Thomas's profoundly humane vision explores the world around us and examines the complex interdependence of all things. Extending b
Mass Market Paperback, 180 pages
Published April 1st 1984 by Bantam (first published January 1st 1974)
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Nov 01, 2014 Rlotz rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
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 biology. But now, after finishing it, I am both confused and disappointed.

With most books, even if I don’t like them, I can still understand and appreciate what the author was trying to achieve. Not with this. The only thing I can think of that could have motivated Lewis Thomas to write this book is sheer egoism. He’s the ki
This was an extraordinary find while I was sifting randomly through the dusty boxes of a booksale outlet store. The price tag was shocking as well; it only cost 10 pesos. I enjoy reading anthologies, whether they're short stories in fiction or non-fiction essays. Lewis Thomas' The Lives of a Cell falls in the latter category.

The book is composed of 29 of the most succinct but unforgettable essays on subjects not just narrowed down to scientific fields but also about their ongoing connection to
I came across a truly lyrical biology book, a series of essays by Lewis Thomas entitled The Lives of a Cell. Now this is a man who can write about biology in a way that delights. For example, this paragraph on pheromones:

" 'At home, 4 p.m. today', says the female moth, and releases a brief explosion of bombykol, a single molecule of which will tremble the hairs of any male within miles and send him driving upwind in a confusion of ardor. But it is doubtful if he has an awareness of being caught
Apr 04, 2008 Michelle rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
A non-fiction book about biology that reads more like fiction. It offers a wonderful, almost poetic scientific perspective on mankind, other species and the Earth as a whole. Although I had to keep a dictionary of scientific terms handy as I read, it was an otherwise very enjoyable read.
A quote from the book:
"I have been trying to think of the earth as a kind of organism, but it is no go. I cannot think of it this way. It is too big, too complex, with too many working parts lacking visible conne
A wonderful book, packed with fascinating insights. Lewis is prescient. Most of his ideas feel timelier than when the book was written. Using cell biology as a springboard (fortunately not in too much detail) for his philosophy, Lewis explores what it means to be human and the functioning of society. A central theme is human society as a living cell with its many interdependent structures and functions. Key to this theme is the idea that the nuclei, mitochondria, organelles and other structures ...more
Alexander Murphy
The lives of a cell is an amazing book, which i believe most people should read, if they can handle it. The reason i say this is because it explores the human vision of the world around us, and the life forms and beings that pass us by in a matter of a lifetime. Thomas explains in a very scientific, and biological style of writing how the world has a major sense of interdependence. It reveals the human nature in all of us, and how we are indeed a social species. However, this book does not focus ...more
Nov 05, 2010 Scott rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every human
Shelves: finished-2010
This book, simply, is amazing and wonderful and makes you feel happy, as well as stunned, to be alive. In this collection of essays Lewis Thomas tackles a variety of subjects relating to biology, chemistry, linguistics (as a parallel to biology) and much more. The reader finds out so much about the human body that is not only startling but is basically an existential nightmare. Instead of being a single form we are in fact made up of millions or billions of cells that share no DNA with us and ar ...more
It is with a heavy heart that I report what a drag it was to read this book. I love science, I love essays, I love philosophical wanderings linking the various arts and sciences together in a creative web of understanding. But apparently I do not enjoy Lewis Thomas' version of any of those things.

Firstly, the science in the book is terribly dated. Not his fault, but worth mentioning. Secondly, Thomas' tendency to assume opinions as a basis for truth, and begin his extrapolations from that point,
I read this book as part of Family Book Club, which I instituted with Christmas gifts last year. If I'm going to expect my family to read a gift-book, I should read it too, went the thought.

The selfish part of this is that I may have given them books I wanted to read anyway (three of them are on a recent Time Magazine list of essential nonfiction, but I like to think I tailored the list to their interests--how my dad relates to Zen and motorcyles, I'm not sure, but it is about fathers and sons,
The good: Lewis Thomas weds his knowledge of biology and medicine with an enjoyable prose style to describe the physical world as a wondrous place worth knowing more about. I feel science writing has a way of sometimes reducing things to formula, when it really should open us up to the idea of re-imagining how we perceive who we are and how the world works. This is a skill that Thomas seems particularly adept at, and one I wish that was more common.

The bad: As many of these essays were published
This is an odd little book, very slim and breezy to read, even though it drops some serious seven-syllable science words without so much as a nod towards defining them or even contextualizing them. Like The Flight of the Iguana, it's really a collection of essays rather than a single narrative or thematic work, but that aspect is much more obvious in this book. Apparently the book either collects essays from disparate sources, or their original single source didn't care if Thomas frequently recy ...more

An anthology of short, philosophical meditations on the biology and ecology of life, pondering such varied topics as; Can we learn from ant colonies? How would an alien species view us? What exactly is the health industry? Are there parallels to be drawn between what science observes and our socio-political life? An emotional response to road kill and the odd venture in the direction of 'the Gaia Hypothesis' en route.
I found it a little dry in places but the entries regarding linguistics and gen
John Clark
In "The Lives of a Cell", Lewis Thomas dances around the question of what life is, and what it means to be alive. This book is a collection of essays that discuss biology, language, society, and other issues of naturalism and scientific observation that weave together into a rather unique way of looking at the lives of individuals with respect to the others. When I had finished this book, I was very excited by the new way I looked at the world around me, and eagerly discussed many of its concept ...more
This is a collection of essays (I think all of Lewis Thomas' books are) that were published in science and medical journals prior to being collected in book format.

The essays are each so well written, beautifully phrased and accessible. Each begins by looking at life at the tiny cellular level but reaches beyond the cellular level to encompass life at the fullest level.

For his ability to write about science and nature in a intellecutal yet humble and humorous manner appeals immediately. He essa
Ever have a book give you a deeper appreciation for life by revealing your ignorance? And this type of revealing ignorance doesn't make you feel bad or inadequate. You just kinda feel the need to keep reading and learn more. It makes you never want to be ignorant again. Well, in my case it did.

Discusses the concept of the earth as a larger version of a cell. Down to the structures, to our interactions. So the "lives of the cell" are the occurrences of our everyday life. Visible and "invisible".

Remarkable book, not too deep for the layperson. Some words did go over my head, but I understood the gist of most everything the author was trying to say. Interesting look at biology, insects, man, and earth. Definitely worth the read and requires little effort. Go for it!
I plucked this book from the one dollar bin at Borders; yet Nora Roberts goes for seven at every grocery store. This says a lot about the market for existential holism.

Book good. Me read.
Every now and then, a book I'm reading refers to this book or quotes from it, so I was happy to have a chance to finally read it directly. It's a collection of short essays, each about 7 pages long, on a variety of topics: language, medicine, germs, the Marine Biological Laboratory, how humans do and do not behave like social insects, etc. Thomas was a physician and he freely threw words like "prokaryotic," "eukaryotic," and "ribosomes" into his writing. But you don't need to have majored in bio ...more
Gregg Wright
It's fairly rare for scientists to write books on their craft that hold up simply as good prose, but Lewis Thomas is such a person. Some of the science may be a little outdated, and sometimes Thomas can be a little too self-indulgent and pretentious, but there's a poetry in the way he relates his thoughts and in some areas he's surprisingly prophetic. There may be better and more current books for educating one's self on biology, but I could see Thomas succeeding at getting people interested in ...more
The most salient quality of these essays is their ability to confront us with new realms of microbiological phenomena. Their more interesting facets, however, are Lewis' several philosophical preoccupations. He loves viewing humanity through the lens of sociobiology. He believes language is our grand social project, as nests are to social insects. Looking at humanity and the progressive accumulation of knowledge and culture this way was a bit of a revelation. He imagines the network of humanity, ...more
Olive Francis
Thomas seems to be intrigued by the fact that humans are social creatures. All the aspects of what defines a social creature- communication, language, community, work- intrigues him. He often goes on tangents explaining the intricate innards of a cell. Pieces like ribosomes and mitochondria inside a cell work together and formulate tissue, which makes organs, which turn into organ systems, and so on until a body and mind is formed. Of the parts of a cell, Thomas finds the mitochondria to be the ...more
A modern day polymath, Lewis Thomas was a physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator and researcher, but most of us knew him simply for his essays.

Considering that resume, where he found the time to write essays, I’ll never know, but he did. They originally appeared in the “New England Journal of Medicine,” a publication I really never see. But several of them were collected in 1974 and published in the book, “The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher.” It won a Natio
its an uncommon feat to write poetically about cellular biology, but Thomas proves it can be done. i find myself thinking that Thomas is at his best when writing about microorganisms and at his weakest when drawing broad vague equations between evolution and the spread of language. this book is full of gemlike statements about the nature of cells, and his perspective on the topic really flowers for you as you're reading this; it will completely, even if only temporarily, alter the way you look a ...more
I'm still in page 31 of this book, but this part already revealed it to be a masterpiece:

“Morowitz has presented the case, in thermodynamic terms, for the hypothesis that a steady flow of energy from the inexhaustible source of the sun to the unfillable sink of the outer space, by way of the earth, is mathematically destined to cause the organization of matter into an increasingly ordered state. The resulting balance act involves a ceaseless clustering of bonded atoms into molecules of higher an
Jamie Cooper
Profound scientific knowledge combined with poetic vision.

Check it:

"Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dead as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of t
Frequently pleasant but never groundbreaking--and inexplicably the winner of the National Book Award--"Lives of a Cell" reads exactly like you would expect a series of brief speculative essays on biology (and computers, and, most interestingly, language) published in the New England Journal of Medicine by a non-specialist ("Biology Watcher") to read. Thomas shares an affinity many science writers have for picking on the pale, weak-eyed social sciences, not unlike children on a playground.
Katie/Doing Dewey
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 stru ...more
Jordan Johnson
A masterwork of both biological insight and intellectual acuity. Poignant and resonant even today. Thomas was the type of man and wordsmith that comes along once a century, and one we are overdue for in ours. Though for thorough student of biology, much of the content will not be a revelation, his prose and poetry, retained in accuracy with which he expresses it, is a refreshment and reminder of the majesty and humbling delicacy of science and medicine. Recommended reading for everyone.
Essays by a biologist who can write poetically without considering at all whether his ideas are practical. so good: "It would be nice to have better ways of monitoring what we’re up to so that we could recognize change while it is occurring, instead of waking up as we do now to the astonished realization that the whole century just past wasn’t what we thought it was, at all. Maybe computers can be used to help in this, although I rather doubt it. You can make simulation models of cities, but wha ...more
I enjoyed The Lives of a Cell -- but there was a little something of the "now I can check THAT one off my list" triumph about the reading. Some of the science that was new or theoretical when he wrote it has been cemented since then, so the freshness that might initially have been implicit in the essays reads as old news, and some of the political asides are confusing. However, I went back through the book to find two or three of the essays that I'd particularly recommend, and found the task alm ...more
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earth as a cell 3 26 Apr 23, 2013 05:59AM  
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Lewis Thomas (November 25, 1913–December 3, 1993) was a physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, policy advisor, and researcher.

Thomas was born in Flushing, New York and attended Princeton University and Harvard Medical School. He became Dean of Yale Medical School and New York University School of Medicine, and President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute. His formative
More about Lewis Thomas...
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“The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.” 34 likes
“If we had better hearing, and could discern the descants of sea birds, the rhythmic tympani of schools of mollusks, or even the distant harmonics of midges hanging over meadows in the sun, the combined sound might lift us off our feet.” 5 likes
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