How We Live and Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells

How We Live and Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells

by Lewis Wolpert
     
 

Biologist Lewis Wolpert eloquently narrates the basics of human life through the lens of its smallest component—the cell.
Everything about our existence—movement and memory, imagination and reproduction, birth and, ultimately, death—is governed by our cells. They are the basis of all life in the universe, from the tiniest bacteria to the most

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Overview

Biologist Lewis Wolpert eloquently narrates the basics of human life through the lens of its smallest component—the cell.
Everything about our existence—movement and memory, imagination and reproduction, birth and, ultimately, death—is governed by our cells. They are the basis of all life in the universe, from the tiniest bacteria to the most complex animals. In the tradition of the classic Lives of a Cell, but with the benefit of the latest research, internationally acclaimed embryologist Lewis Wolpert demonstrates how human life derives from a single cell and then grows into a body, an incredibly complex society made up of billions of them. When we age, our cells cannot repair the damage they have undergone; when we get ill, it is because cells are so damaged they stop working and die. Wolpert examines the science behind topics that are much discussed but rarely understood—stem cell research, cloning, DNA, mutating cancer cells—and explains how all life evolved from just one cell. Lively and passionate, this is an accessible guide to understanding the human body and life itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wolpert, professor emeritus of biology at University College London (Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast), conceives bodies as complex societies of cells, with each individual cell and cell type fulfilling a very specific role. As Wolpert explains, cells are incredibly complicated, representing evolution in action. Indeed, Wolpert asserts, “However clever one thinks cells are, they almost always turn out to exceed one's expectations.” He provides basic biological information about cell structure, genetics and reproduction, and then discusses the roles cells play in disease, aging, death, reproduction, memory, emotion and much more. In focusing on the process of human development, he marvels at how a single cell, a fertilized egg, can grow into a complex organism. Along the way, Wolpert lightly touches on some hot-button topics like the ethics of stem cell research; when a developing fetus might be considered human; and the ethics of cloning. His range is so great that he has little time to delve beneath the surface of any of the subjects he raises, making this a cursory introduction for the novice in basic cell biology and its implications. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
Biologist Wolpert (Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief, 2007, etc.) attempts to explain cells-the basic structural and functional units of all forms of life-to general readers. The author reviews cell replication and protein synthesis and describes the behavior of nerve, muscle, immune and other body cells. Unfortunately, there is not a single photo, diagram or schematic of a basic cell, nor of cell division (mitosis) and the more complex chromosome-halving reduction division that gives rise to sperms and eggs (meiosis). Wolpert begins historically with the 17th-century discoveries of cells by Robert Hooke and Anton van Leeuwenhoek, which laid the groundwork for the cell theories of Theodor Schwann and Rudolph Virchow two centuries later. Then it's on to the nitty-gritty of what cells do: consume food, generate energy, make proteins, replicate (or not), grow old and die (or not, in the case of cancer and stem cells). Wolpert provides plenty of factoids: The body has some 200 different types of cells; there are three billion nucleotide pairs in the human genome; proteins run from 50 to 2,000 amino acids long; muscle cells do not replicate, but rather expand, absorbing more nuclei in the process. The dense procession of facts slows the narrative pace and may leave nonspecialist readers confused. The author devotes later chapters to what can go wrong with cells-infection, an overactive immune system, chronic diseases like cancer and the wear and tear of aging, which limits cell repair and replication. Wolpert stoutly defends science-based medicine, condemning alternative and complementary "energy" approaches, including acupuncture. Despite a somewhathelpful glossary, lay readers would be better served by a generously illustrated textbook. Agent: Anne Engel/Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393072211
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
10/19/2009
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Lewis Wolpert is Professor Emeritus of Biology as Applied to Medicine at University College, London. His books include Six Impossible Things before Breakfast, How We Live and Why We Die, and Malignant Sadness, the basis for a BBC television series.

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