Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Wild Weird World of Biology

So, it turns out The Lives of a Cell has little to do with cells.  I checked it out figuring to learn something about how cells work, since I'm a ways removed from fifth-grade life science, or even freshman bio.  I wasn't just judging the book by its cover -- when I peeked in, there was a paragraph about mitochondria!  As it turns out, though, Lives is a collection of essays sharing the theme of sociobiology. As our cells are a collection of organisms working together for mutual benefit, and our cells themselves work together with other cells again for mutual benefit, and bacteria within us work with us for our mutual benefit, the author attempts to apply this to the human race as as a whole, likening language and other constructs to the vast structures that insects build together. No insect is conscious of what it is doing, but it does it, and it creates something wondrous and vast.  I enjoyed the author's voice enormously, but the actual science is probably dated. It has a seventies charm about it, though,  bringing to mind the fanciful idea that the Earth is one big organism.

(This cover

That was polished off on Friday, and over the weekend I roared through the utterly eye-opening book Unnatural Selection, on how medicine, pesticides, and such are forcing rapid evolutionary change all around us.  Expect a review for it in the next couple of days. I'll be following that up with E.O. Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth, and after that..golly, I might just give biology a slight break.   There are all sorts of rabbits I might chase next, though I'm laying off new purchases for a little while, so I'll mostly be working from my little stack of unread nonfiction or from my monthly bag-o-books from the uni library.

Here's to wrapping up February with a bang!


  1. I read Lewis Thomas's book long ago, and your brief posting/review reminds me of my lasting impression: the clarity of Thomas's prose, making his subject interesting to me (even though I have so little interest in the subject). Your posting might send me back to the book again. Thanks!

  2. I found him very funny throughout!


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