The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human (Hardcover)
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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
“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
“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.”
"In Siddhartha Mukherjee’s exciting and scholarly new book, he is a portraitist of cells, illuminating their structure and function, how they know to become part of organs like the heart or a brain, how they reproduce, how they become corrupt causing disease, and how modern medicine has learned to understand and manipulate them to cure and to heal. Deeply researched, The Song of the Cell is an extraordinary journey through the history of discovery to the most innovative cellular medicine practiced today and the promise of what lies ahead."
—Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate Physiology or Medicine 2001, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, London.
"Part mystery, part adventure story, The Song of the Cell is an irresistible foray into the frontiers of medical science. Animated by Siddhartha Mukherjee’s lively, lucid prose, this volume is a reminder of the power of human ingenuity, and likely to leave readers both enlightened and hopeful.”
—Jennifer Egan, author of the Pulitzer Prize winner A Visit from the Goon Squad and the New York Times bestseller The Candy House
Praise for The Emperor of All Maladies
“With this fat, enthralling, juicy, scholarly, wonderfully written history of cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee vaults into that exalted company, inviting comparisons to the late physician and historian Lewis Thomas and the late palaeontologist and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould… What a story—full of quixotic characters, therapeutic triumphs and setbacks, and recent historical events—with all the hubris and pathos of Greek tragedy.” —Susan Okie, Washington Post
“Magisterial… Siddhartha Mukherjee’s work is a small miracle of insight, scope, pace, structure and lucidity… Reading The Emperor of All Maladies is a sharpening, clarifying and moving experience... One of the best reading experiences of my life.” —Karen Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Powerful and ambitious… One of the most extraordinary stories in medicine.” —The New York Times Book Review
"It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion. The Emperor of All Maladies is an extraordinary achievement.” — The New Yorker
“Stirring… A compulsively readable, surprisingly uplifting and vivid tale.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
“Mukherjee brings an impressive balance of empathy and dispassion to this instantly essential piece of medical journalism.” —Time
“A meticulously researched, panoramic history… What makes Mukherjee's narrative so remarkable is that he imbues decades of painstaking laboratory investigation with the suspense of a mystery novel and urgency of a thriller. ...The masterful analogies in this volume should earn Mukherjee a rightful place alongside Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and Stephen Hawking in the pantheon of our epoch's great explicators.” —Boston Globe
“Riveting and powerful… Mukherjee’s extraordinary book might stimulate a wider discussion of how to wisely allocate our precious health care resources.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Now and then a writer comes along who helps us fathom both the intricacies of a scientific specialty and its human meaning. Lewis Thomas, Sherwin Nuland, and Oliver Sacks come to mind. Add to their company Siddhartha Mukherjee: oncologist, researcher, and author of The Emperor of All Maladies (Scribner), a sweeping, erudite, and challenging ‘biography of cancer.’” —Elle magazine
“Rich and engrossing.” —The Economist
“A brilliant, riveting history of the disease.” —Entertainment Weekly (Grade A)
Praise for THE GENE
"This is perhaps the greatest detective story ever told—a millennia-long search, led by a thousand explorers, from Aristotle to Mendel to Francis Collins, for the question marks at the center of every living cell. Like The Emperor of All Maladies, The Gene is prodigious, sweeping, and ultimately transcendent. If you’re interested in what it means to be human, today and in the tomorrows to come, you must read this book." —Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See and Cloud Cuckoo Land
“Mukherjee views his subject panoptically, from a great and clarifying height, yet also intimately.” —New York Times Book Review
“The Gene is both expansive and accessible . . . . In The Gene, Mukherjee spends most of his time looking into the past, and what he finds is consistently intriguing. But his sober warning about the future might be the book’s most important contribution.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“The Gene boats an even more ambitious sweep of human endeavor than its predecessor, The Emperor of All Maladies. . . . Mukherjee punctuates his encyclopedic investigations of collective and individual heritability, and our closing in on the genetic technologies that will transform how we will shape our own genome, with evocative personal anecdotes, deft literary allusions, wonderfully apt metaphors, and an irrepressible intellectual brio.” —Elle
"[Mukherjee] expresses abstract intellectual ideas through emotional stories . . . .[and] swaddles his medical rigor with rhapsodic tenderness, surprising vulnerability, and occasional flashes of pure poetry.”—Washington Post
“Compassionate, tautly synthesized, packed with unfamiliar details about familiar people.” —The New York Times
“A well-written, accessible, and entertaining account of one of the most important of all scientific revolutions, one that is destined to have a fundamental impact on the lives of generations to come. The Gene is an important guide to that future.” —The Guardian
“Reading The Gene is like taking a course from a brilliant and passionate professor who is just sure he can make you understand what he’s talking about. . . . Excellent.” —Seattle Times