How We Live and Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells (Paperback)
Acclaimed biologist Lewis Wolpert eloquently narrates the basics of human life through the lens of its smallest component: the cell.
Everything about our existence— imagination and reproduction, birth and death—is governed by our cells. They are the basis of all life in the universe, from the tiniest of bacteria to the most complex of animals. Genes in developing embryos determine the makeup of individuals, and the rapid firing between nerve cells creates the spirit of who we are. 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.
In the tradition of Lewis Thomas’s science classic The Lives of a Cell, Wolpert, an internationally acclaimed embryologist, draws on the recent discoveries of genetics to demonstrate how human life derives from a single cell and then grows into a body: an incredibly complex society made up of billions of cells. Wolpert sensitively examines the science behind often controversial research topics that are much discussed by rarely understood—stem cell research, cloning, DNA, and mutating cancer cells—all the while illuminating how the intricacies of cellular behavior bear directly on human behavior.
Wolpert isn’t afraid to tackle the tough questions, including how and why single cells evolved into complex organisms and, first and foremost, what gave rise to the original cell, the origin of all life. Lively and passionate, How We Live and Why We Die is both an accessible guide to understanding the human body and a deeply reverent meditation on life itself.
— Helen Pickersgill - Science
It is a book in a tradition, not limited to science, of explaining the visible in terms of the invisible…How We Live and Why We Die is a translation from another language—biology.
— John Galloway - Nature
This is a marvellous piece of work…[a] wondrously informative book…Read it. You will learn more than you can imagine about something you cannot possibly imagine: the fabulous complexity of being alive.
— Brian Appleyard - New Statesman
In 200 or so short pages, Lewis Wolpert breezes through all we know about cell biology…Wolpert is an engaging host with an eye for a clever analogy. Perhaps the biggest thrill to be had is when he lays bare the awe-inspiring intricacy of the living cell.
— New Scientist
How We Live and Why We Die is a layperson’s guide to the world within us. It is clear, authoritative and readable. And, as cells are constantly in the news—whether via genetic engineering or DNA testing, cloning or stem cell research—it is also timely…[Wolpert] makes it clear that to understand human nature, we must understand the nature of cells from which we are made. This book is a fine place to start.
— Stephen Cave - Financial Times
Like a nail-biting mystery, the author unravels the secrets locked up in the cell…A mind-expanding read.
— D. Wayne Dworsky - San Francisco Book Review
Engaging…As Wolpert shows, concepts as broad as evolution can be understood using the cell as a starting point, and charting the cell’s discovery reveals the greater shape of the history of science in this profound, yet eminently readable book.
— Seed Magazine
Wolpert projects curiosity and clarity that carries along his audience…[His] work will absorb anyone fascinated by the universe inside the cell.
— Gilbert Taylor - Booklist