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How We Live and Why We Die: the secret lives of cells Paperback – 1 Apr 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (1 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571239129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571239122
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 1.5 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 18,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'The secret lives of cells' shouldn't be kept a secret, and Wolpert makes a good start at breaking the silence. . . . Impressively up to date.--Helen Pickersgill

Book Description

In How We Live and Why We Die: the secret lives of cells, distinguished biologist Lewis Wolpert explains how cells provide the answers to fundamental questions about our lives.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Wolperts 'How We Live and Why We Die' provides a decent introduction to cell theory and the basic workings of cells. It covers topics such as how proteins are made, how gene expression is controlled, the process of embryogenesis, how cells fight invaders, the origin of cancer, and more.

I am extremely passionate about these topics (I actively work in one of the fields), but Wolpert fails, in my opinion, to give anything but the most basic textbook discussions: mRNA goes to the ribosome and this is the machine that makes proteins; this cell moves over here and that one over there during gastrulation etc. He fails to portray the sense of wonder and amazement that I often feel when reading journals and other books about these issues. In fact his chapter on development (where he made his name) is the most disappointing and superficial.

I understand that he is aiming this book towards people with less training in the concepts than me, but that is not the point. I have no formal education past A-level in physics but Brian Greene's books have allowed me to glimpse the workings of the Universe according to modern theoretical physics. If he can do that, I would hope someone like Wolpert could write a book which instills similar sense of wonder about life and cells. This is not that book.

If you are a real beginner to cell biology i.e. if you have no idea what a gene is, or that proteins are made from amino acids, or that cells have membranes, then this might be a decent read to give you a very simple overview of molecular biology. But don't expect to overwhelmed with wonder. Don't expect to be finishing chapters feeling enlightened with a smile on your face.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After reading all the other reviews I hesitated for some time about buying it. I certainly agree with the main criticism of lack of illustrations, which for this particular subject was a serious omission. I learnt a bit but Davies "Life Unfolding," was far better.
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Format: Hardcover
The task to open up the mind-boggling world of cells and their intricacies to the intelligent layman is a challenging one. Wolpert fails big time because he has not one, yes not one, illustration in all the book. How obtuse must you be when as an author and educator you flagrantly disregard "the thousand words one picture" adage?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I saw this book reviewed by Robin McKie in the Guardian Weekly - reprinted from The Observer. I am not a graduate scientist, just fascinated by Life. Wolpert is easy to read and precise in his detail. He does not talk down to the reader, and uses the scientific names when appropriate, but sprinkles his descriptions of these subtle and invisible processes with easily understood metaphor.
I only had one quibble: he often writes of the hundreds of thousands of different protiens as "engines" taking their fuel from ATP. For me this was one metaphor too far, and remains a mystery.
The book has a useful glossary and index, and opens with an interesting account of the progress of research over the centuries.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Decent beginners biology book. GCSE biology/science background with a bit of extra research is necessary. I do not like how it was written - weird writing style. There are far superior popular science books.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book hoping for some insights into cellular biology, and how our bodies form, grow old and die. How disappointing it was to find such a sloppily written effort as this.

The first couple of chapters are a very dry procession of facts, racing through a grounding in cells and their construction with an almost autistic lack of descriptive colour or flair, illuminating asides or perceptive discourse. The book drops rapidly downhill from there. The writing is of a very poor quality, and the editor of this book ought to be ashamed. Early on we are told "there are about two metres of DNA molecules in our cells". For a newcomer to the subject, this is ambiguous - does he mean two metres of DNA in total across all our cells? Or two metres of DNA in every cell? A moment's thought would have lead the author to write "there are about two metres of DNA molecules in each of our cells", removing ambiguity and increasing the wonder inherent in this fact.

Wolpert also constantly gets confused with verb-subject agreement. For instance, on page 36 we have "...adding back the phosphate group when food like sugars are broken down". When food are broken down? Or, on page 112, "At an early stage of development the structure of the embryos of human males and females are indistinguishable". The structure are indistinguishable? Very poor indeed.

There are also some annoying repetitions, which once again any editor with a brain should have caught. On page 177, we have "Cancer has its origin when a single cell suffers an alteration in its genetic constitution". On THE NEXT PAGE, "With cancer, cell multiplication gets out of control due to an abnormality that arises in just a single cell". Turn the page and read "Almost all the cancers have their origin in a single abnormal cell".
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