A better understanding of the cell holds immense power for medicine according to this eye-opening account from Pulitzer winner Mukherjee (The Emperor of All Maladies). He begins with the ground-breaking realization from two 19th-century scientists that every bit of plant and animal tissue in the world is made up of microscopic cells. Since then, Mukherjee writes, there has been “a revolution in the making, and a history (and future) that had been unwritten: of cells, of our capacity to manipulate cells.” An extraordinarily gifted storyteller, Mukherjee offers an expansive chronology of discovery in cell therapies (such as IVF) and setbacks, such as the use of thalidomide for pregnancies in the 1960s. He also includes stories of what he calls “new humans”—Mukherjee clarifies that the term isn’t a sci-fi-inspired “vision of the future,” but rather everyday folks whose health has been restored by advances in cellular manipulation and engineering, such as a patient who recovered from leukemia with cell therapy. The author’s ideas about the near future of medicine (one in which medicine will “perhaps even create synthetic versions of cells, and parts of humans”) are both convincing and inspiring, and woven throughout his narrative are accessible explanations of cell biology and immunology. This is another winner from Mukherjee. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Song of the Cell
“This expansive, immersive book posits a new way forward in medicine thanks to the cell: new ways of treating patients, new medicines to create, new ways of healing, and new ways of understanding ourselves.” —Jaime Rochelle Herndon, Columbia Magazine
“In an account that’s both lyrical and capacious, Mukherjee takes us through an evolution of human understanding: from the seventeenth-century discovery that humans are made up of cells to our cutting-edge technologies for manipulating and deploying cells for therapeutic purposes.” —The New Yorker
"Erudite, panoramic... Mukherjee is an elegant stylist... [and] an assured and genial guide." —Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“If you are not already in awe of biology, The Song of the Cell might get you there. It is a masterclass.” —Suzanne O’Sullivan, The Guardian
“Audacious...mesmerizing...reliably engaging... Mukherjee enthusiastically instructs and... delights—all the while hustling us across a preposterously vast and intricate landscape.” —David A Shaywitz, The Wall Street Journal
“Mukherjee is a passionate, expert guide... He weaves together charming histories of scientists, his own, sometimes painful, memories of patients and friends lost to illness, and the complex science of what makes cells tick.” —Hannah Kuchler, The Financial Times
“For anyone who wants to understand the building blocks of their own bodies—which everyone surely should—this is an informative and entertaining introduction.” —The Economist
“Mukherjee has found an especially roomy subject for his roving intelligence. . . . I was repeatedly dazzled by [Mukherjee’s] pointillist scenes, the enthusiasm of his explanations, the immediacy of his metaphors.” —Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
“Mukherjee is such an engaging writer, alert to nanoscopic beauty and the potential deceptions of metaphor. . . . [The Song of the Cell is] written with compassionate warmth and humor, and the personal glimpses into an ordinary scientific life and the dedication that goes with it.” —Steven Poole, The Telegraph
“The Song of the Cell blends cutting-edge research, impeccable scholarship, intrepid reporting, and gorgeous prose into an encyclopedic study that reads like a literary page-turner.” —Oprah Daily
Mukherjee gives us the story of those minuscule, self-regulating packages called cells, from their groundbreaking discovery by English scientist/architect Robert Hooke and Dutch cloth merchant Antonie van Leeuwenhoek to revolutionary new ways cells are being manipulated today to improve human health. Following the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies and the No. 1 New York Times best-selling The Gene.
NOVEMBER 2022 - AudioFile
This is the second of Mukherjee’s audiobooks that Dennis Boutsikaris has narrated, after 2017’s THE GENE. In this expansive history of the researchers who unlocked the mysteries of the cell, Boutsikaris demonstrates again the importance of an experienced narrator in shaping a complex narrative. Using many of his skills as a narrator of bestselling thrillers, Boutsikaris shades a syllable here, adds a degree of emphasis there, heightening and bringing dramatic tension to a history that is already skillfully told and highly accessible but, at times, unavoidably dense. This is a narrative to digest slowly, step by step. The chapters are conveniently brief, and it’s no effort to listen to such an adept performer a second, even a third, time. D.A.W. © AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
A luminous journey into cellular biology.
Mukherjee, a physician, professor of medicine, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author (The Emperor of All Maladies), has a knack for explaining difficult ideas in terms that are both straightforward and interesting. In his latest, he punctuates his scientific explanations with touching, illustrative stories of people coping with cell-based illnesses, tracking how the knowledge gleaned from those cases contributed to further scientific advancement. In the early chapters, the author traces the discovery of cells as the building blocks of animal and plant life, with the invention of the microscope making analysis possible. With this development, researchers could better understand the roles of cells in human physiology, including the illnesses that rogue cells could cause. In the middle section, Mukherjee investigates how scientists then moved on to study the processes through which cells become specialized by function and how some turn cancerous. The identification of the phases of cell division and the discovery of DNA were crucial breakthroughs, opening the way for a new generation of treatments. Mukherjee occasionally digresses from the historical story to provide vivid portraits of key researchers, with recollections about his own work. The final section of the book deals with emerging areas of research such as cell manipulation and gene editing as well as new technologies like transplantation. It’s all unquestionably exciting, but the author is careful to acknowledge the knotty ethical considerations. Treating embryos for cellular abnormalities makes medical sense, but the idea of altered human beings has worrying implications. Mukherjee also emphasizes that there is still a great deal we do not know about cells, especially the interactions between types. Understanding the mechanics is one thing, he notes; hearing “the song of the cell” is something else. This poignant idea serves as a suitable coda for a fascinating story related with clarity and common sense.
Another outstanding addition to the author’s oeuvre, which we hope will continue to grow for years to come.