Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life

Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life

by Enrico Coen
     
 

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Cells to Civilizations is the first unified account of how life transforms itself—from the production of bacteria to the emergence of complex civilizations. What are the connections between evolving microbes, an egg that develops into an infant, and a child who learns to walk and talk? Award-winning scientist Enrico Coen synthesizes the growth of living

Overview

Cells to Civilizations is the first unified account of how life transforms itself—from the production of bacteria to the emergence of complex civilizations. What are the connections between evolving microbes, an egg that develops into an infant, and a child who learns to walk and talk? Award-winning scientist Enrico Coen synthesizes the growth of living systems and creative processes, and he reveals that the four great life transformations—evolution, development, learning, and human culture—while typically understood separately, actually all revolve around shared core principles and manifest the same fundamental recipe. Coen blends provocative discussion, the latest scientific research, and colorful examples to demonstrate the links between these critical stages in the history of life.

Coen tells a story rich with genes, embryos, neurons, and fascinating discoveries. He examines the development of the zebra, the adaptations of seaweed, the cave paintings of Lascaux, and the formulations of Alan Turing. He explores how dogs make predictions, how weeds tell the time of day, and how our brains distinguish a Modigliani from a Rembrandt. Locating commonalities in important findings, Coen gives readers a deeper understanding of key transformations and provides a bold portrait for how science both frames and is framed by human culture.

A compelling investigation into the relationships between our biological past and cultural progress, Cells to Civilizations presents a remarkable story of living change.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books

"This attempt at a grand theoretical synthesis within biology explores the transformative powers and creative forces that have brought about the living world from the first cells to the latest developments in cultural and technological evolution. . . . [Coen's] eloquently written book offers a programmatic synthesis and an empirically grounded proposal for a theory of biology. . . . Cells to Civilizations will stimulate many productive discussions about the origins and development of life in all its complexities."—Manfred D. Laubichler, Science

"In Cells to Civilization, [Coen] couples his knowledge of genetics with metaphor and art, likening the unfurling of mutant snapdragon flowers to an artist's brushstrokes on an expanding canvas. . . . The book is packed with fascinating facts. . . . [H]uman cultures and minds are among the most complex information systems in nature, and Coen does a good job of reminding us of their roots in evolution."—John Hawks,New Scientist

"The ideas [in Cells to Civilizations] are subtle, possibly significant, and slightly unsettling. What more could a reader wish for?"—Robert Schaefer, New York Journal of Books

"[Coen's] prose is every bit as good as Richard Dawkins' or Steve Jones', and his rich illustrations, particularly the way he uses classical and modern art to make his points, refreshes the text and keeps one's focus on the arguments. His clever ideas and engaging and creative writing style suggest that he would make a fascinating dinner companion. I loved this book and will put it on the general reading list for our biology undergraduates. I suspect it will also find resonance with the interested layman."—Charalambos P. Kyriacou, Times Higher Education

"Cells to Civilizations is a very approachable and thought-provoking reading for everyone involved in education and science."—Monika Biro, American Biology Teacher

"Cells to Civilizations is an intelligent and entertaining book by a distinguished biologist."—Robert C. Richardson, BioScience

"[Cells to Civilizations] was thought provoking, informative, and fun to read."Choice

"Clearly written . . . intriguing, thought-provoking."Library Journal

"What are the connections between evolving microbes, an egg that develops into an infant, a child who learns to walk, and the rise of Ancient Rome? For many years, scientists have generally thought these great transformations—evolution, development, learning, and cultural change—occurred through different mechanisms. But geneticist Enrico Coen, in his pioneering new book Cells to Civilization, reveals that these transformations revolve around shared core principles and manifest the same fundamental recipe. Coen blends provocative discussion, the latest scientific research, and colourful examples to demonstrate the links between these critical stages in the history of life."Chemicals & Chemistry

"Coen's book is ambitious and stimulating. . . . Cells to Civilizations is good material for conversation and a worthwhile read."—Deniz Erezyilmaz, truthdig.com

"Do not be daunted by the scope of the book, which is written for a wide audience, although it contains enough science for biologists and anthropologists to ponder and argue with Coen. For the rest, it is an easy read, particularly as the biology it contains is peppered with vignettes drawn from painting and art history, which act as a guide for the more dry science that forms the meat of the argument."—Alfonso Martinez Arias, Development Journal

New Scientist
In Cells to Civilization, [Coen] couples his knowledge of genetics with metaphor and art, likening the unfurling of mutant snapdragon flowers to an artist's brushstrokes on an expanding canvas. . . . The book is packed with fascinating facts. . . . [H]uman cultures and minds are among the most complex information systems in nature, and Coen does a good job of reminding us of their roots in evolution.
— John Hawks
New York Journal of Books
The ideas [in Cells to Civilizations] are subtle, possibly significant, and slightly unsettling. What more could a reader wish for?
— Robert Schaefer
Chemicals & Chemistry
What are the connections between evolving microbes, an egg that develops into an infant, a child who learns to walk, and the rise of Ancient Rome? For many years, scientists have generally thought these great transformations—evolution, development, learning, and cultural change—occurred through different mechanisms. But geneticist Enrico Coen, in his pioneering new book Cells to Civilization, reveals that these transformations revolve around shared core principles and manifest the same fundamental recipe. Coen blends provocative discussion, the latest scientific research, and colourful examples to demonstrate the links between these critical stages in the history of life.
truthdig.com
Coen's book is ambitious and stimulating. . . . Cells to Civilizations is good material for conversation and a worthwhile read.
— Deniz Erezyilmaz
Times Higher Education
[Coen's] prose is every bit as good as Richard Dawkins' or Steve Jones', and his rich illustrations, particularly the way he uses classical and modern art to make his points, refreshes the text and keeps one's focus on the arguments. His clever ideas and engaging and creative writing style suggest that he would make a fascinating dinner companion. I loved this book and will put it on the general reading list for our biology undergraduates. I suspect it will also find resonance with the interested layman.
— Charalambos P. Kyriacou
Science
This attempt at a grand theoretical synthesis within biology explores the transformative powers and creative forces that have brought about the living world from the first cells to the latest developments in cultural and technological evolution. . . . [Coen's] eloquently written book offers a programmatic synthesis and an empirically grounded proposal for a theory of biology. . . . Cells to Civilizations will stimulate many productive discussions about the origins and development of life in all its complexities.
— Manfred D. Laubichler
Science - Manfred D. Laubichler
This attempt at a grand theoretical synthesis within biology explores the transformative powers and creative forces that have brought about the living world from the first cells to the latest developments in cultural and technological evolution. . . . [Coen's] eloquently written book offers a programmatic synthesis and an empirically grounded proposal for a theory of biology. . . . Cells to Civilizations will stimulate many productive discussions about the origins and development of life in all its complexities.
New Scientist - John Hawks
In Cells to Civilization, [Coen] couples his knowledge of genetics with metaphor and art, likening the unfurling of mutant snapdragon flowers to an artist's brushstrokes on an expanding canvas. . . . The book is packed with fascinating facts. . . . [H]uman cultures and minds are among the most complex information systems in nature, and Coen does a good job of reminding us of their roots in evolution.
New York Journal of Books - Robert Schaefer
The ideas [in Cells to Civilizations] are subtle, possibly significant, and slightly unsettling. What more could a reader wish for?
truthdig.com - Deniz Erezyilmaz
Coen's book is ambitious and stimulating. . . . Cells to Civilizations is good material for conversation and a worthwhile read.
Times Higher Education - Charalambos P. Kyriacou
[Coen's] prose is every bit as good as Richard Dawkins' or Steve Jones', and his rich illustrations, particularly the way he uses classical and modern art to make his points, refreshes the text and keeps one's focus on the arguments. His clever ideas and engaging and creative writing style suggest that he would make a fascinating dinner companion. I loved this book and will put it on the general reading list for our biology undergraduates. I suspect it will also find resonance with the interested layman.
Choice
[Cells to Civilizations] was thought provoking, informative, and fun to read.
Development Journal - Alfonso Martinez Arias
Do not be daunted by the scope of the book, which is written for a wide audience, although it contains enough science for biologists and anthropologists to ponder and argue with Coen. For the rest, it is an easy read, particularly as the biology it contains is peppered with vignettes drawn from painting and art history, which act as a guide for the more dry science that forms the meat of the argument.
American Biology Teacher - Monika Biro
Cells to Civilizations is a very approachable and thought-provoking reading for everyone involved in education and science.
Library Journal
Plant molecular geneticist Coen (John Innes Ctr., Norwich, UK; The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves) begins this book by describing the four ways that life, in the broadest sense of the word, is transformed: development through patterning, Darwinian selection, modifying neural interactions and connections, and cultural change as a result of human behavior and interaction. Coen goes on to argue persuasively that these four means of transformation are better understood not as separate processes but as one common set of mechanisms for life's transformations. His examples range from genes to ecosystems, learning to cultural change. Enticing diagrams, metaphors, and illustrations support his premise. VERDICT Clearly written, this intriguing, thought-provoking book by an eminent scientist will attract readers with a background in science. General readers should also find it accessible and of interest.—Gloria Maxwell, Metropolitan Community Coll.-Penn Valley, Kansas City, MO

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691165608
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
03/22/2015
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
748,189
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 3.20(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Enrico Coen is a plant molecular geneticist based at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, United Kingdom. He is the author of The Art of Genes, a fellow of the Royal Society, and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. His awards include the Linnean Gold Medal and the Royal Society Darwin Medal.

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