In this complex yet elegant book, Mukherjee places the cell at the center of the history of medicine and of the possibilities of the future. From the cloth merchant who discovered "animalcules" half by accident, to the unethical 1970's pioneer of in vitro fertilization who slept in a lab with a fish tank and a series of clocks, to the scientists searching for cures today, this book contains a deeply human history of science, at times inspiring, unlikely, and alarming. Mukherjee writes movingly of his own scientific work and brings important questions about the future of cellular treatments and "the new human" to light.
A New York Times Notable Book of 2022 and Goodreads Choice Awards 2022 Finalist!
From the author of The Emperor of All Maladies, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and The Gene, a #1 New York Times bestseller, comes his most spectacular book yet, an exploration of medicine and our radical new ability to manipulate cells. Rich with Mukherjee’s revelatory and exhilarating stories of scientists, doctors, and the patients whose lives may be saved by their work, The Song of the Cell is the third book in this extraordinary writer’s exploration of what it means to be human.
Mukherjee begins this magnificent story in the late 1600s, when a distinguished English polymath, Robert Hooke, and an eccentric Dutch cloth-merchant, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek looked down their handmade microscopes. What they saw introduced a radical concept that swept through biology and medicine, touching virtually every aspect of the two sciences, and altering both forever. It was the fact that complex living organisms are assemblages of tiny, self-contained, self-regulating units. Our organs, our physiology, our selves—hearts, blood, brains—are built from these compartments. Hooke christened them “cells”.
The discovery of cells—and the reframing of the human body as a cellular ecosystem—announced the birth of a new kind of medicine based on the therapeutic manipulations of cells. A hip fracture, a cardiac arrest, Alzheimer’s dementia, AIDS, pneumonia, lung cancer, kidney failure, arthritis, COVID pneumonia—all could be reconceived as the results of cells, or systems of cells, functioning abnormally. And all could be perceived as loci of cellular therapies.
In The Song of the Cell, Mukherjee tells the story of how scientists discovered cells, began to understand them, and are now using that knowledge to create new humans. He seduces you with writing so vivid, lucid, and suspenseful that complex science becomes thrilling. Told in six parts, laced with Mukherjee’s own experience as a researcher, a doctor, and a prolific reader, The Song of the Cell is both panoramic and intimate—a masterpiece.
About the Author
Siddhartha Mukherjee is the author of The Gene: An Intimate History, a #1 New York Times bestseller; The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction; and The Laws of Medicine. He is the editor of Best Science Writing 2013. Mukherjee is an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician and researcher. A Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, and Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in many journals, including Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Yorker. He lives in New York with his wife and daughters. Visit his website at: SiddharthaMukherjee.com.
Praise for Song of the Cell
"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, 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 (UK)
“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
“Siddhartha Mukherjee, whose 2010 Pulitzer-winning biography of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies, vaulted him into Quammen’s league, affirms a reputation for accessible science journalism with The Song of the Cell, a history of the building block of life, woven into his career as a doctor. But with a twist — unlike Breathless, you step away hopeful for the future.” —The Chicago Tribune
“Tying together what might otherwise be a disjointed narrative, Mukherjee frequently invokes the patient’s journey. We hear their voices throughout, reminding the reader that however great our knowledge, there is still much to learn. . . . A great read with which it is hard not to hum along.” —Marie Vodicka, Science
“Captivating and provocative, The Song of the Cell encourages us to rethink historical approaches to medical science and imagine how cellular biology can reshape medicine and public health.” —Bookpage,*STARRED REVIEW*
“An extraordinarily gifted storyteller… 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.” —Publishers Weekly, *STARRED REVIEW*
"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... A luminous journey into cellular biology... Another outstanding addition to the author’s oeuvre, which we hope will continue to grow for years to come." —Kirkus, *STARRED REVIEW*
“Mukherjee's coverage of early efforts at bone marrow transplantation is heart-tugging. A discussion of stem cells is first-rate… In all, this is a distinctive ode to cells—their structure and function, commonalities, diversities, interconnectedness, and limitless possibilities—infused with a sense of wonder and humanity.” —Booklist
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