The Song of the Cell

Marie Vodicka in Science:

Through a series of vignettes peppered with illustrative analogies and vibrant characters, Siddhartha Mukherjee invites readers of his new book, The Song of the Cell, on a tour of cell biology from its early origins to its present and future applications. Mukherjee is clear from the start that the book is not a comprehensive history of the field but rather a meandering journey through selected seminal scientific discoveries. The book’s conversational style draws the reader in, and the text is enlivened by descriptions of major players in the field. We learn, for example, that Frederick Banting—co-winner of the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin—devised his key experiment only after experiencing financial difficulties in his medical practice, a broken-down car, and a sleepless night puzzling over a recently published journal article.

While practitioners of biology will recognize many in this cast of characters, from historical icons to cameos by peers and contemporaries, the book’s individual and idiosyncratic descriptions of the scientists and their discoveries are both a strength and a weakness. Such a strategy can help to keep readers engaged, but it can also perpetuate the inaccurate notion of science as a solitary activity, sparked by individual genius.

More here.