The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas review: the World from Another Perspective

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Table of contents

  1. Three Emergent Themes
  2. Communication
  3. Personal Connection

The fascinating novel that is “The Lives of a Cell” by Lewis Thomas, encompasses an enormous diversity of biological topics. The essays revolve around the essence of science. The focus ranges from a molecular point of view, to a subcellular, to the organism itself. From here, the book expands to questionable social interactions within organisms and the scale exponentially grows, all the way to the search for extraterrestrial life.

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Throughout his essays, Thomas covers subjects that vary from anthropology, etymology, music, biology and overall binds the relationship between the interconnectedness between the living things on earth. Lewis Thomas is the philosophical mastermind behind this novel; he manages to present complex medical, psychological, as well as biological issues, in a way that is comprehensible. He was born in the year 1913 and lived his life as an author, physician, researcher and teacher. The book, ‘The Lives of a Cell,’ is a collection of the essays he wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine; this is what he was most well-known for. He attended Princeton as well as Harvard Medical school and was successful in every field he contributed to there. Within his densely packed career, this was his very first book to be published.

Three Emergent Themes

HarmonyIt can be said that the most significant theme in all his twentynine essays, is harmony.All essays come back to the interconnectedness of all beings. He writes that the "uniformity of the earth's life, more astonishing than its diversity, is accountable by the high probability that we derived, originally, from some single cell, fertilized in a bolt of lightning as the earth cooled" (3). He describes harmony between the living through music (touching on his personal fondness of Bach) and various proposals on how the animal world is potentially a continuing, musical memory that has been going since the ‘beginning of time. ’ The author argues that even our own bodies are not truly our own, since the mitochondria and other organelles are descended from other organisms. He proposes a metaphor that implies that the Earth itself is merely a large cell, with humans just one portion of a vast system.


Thomas frequently binds connections between the behaviour of animals as well as humans; he particularly enjoys exploring the actions of the social insects, such as ants and whales. -between organisms, ants-between humansScience as the Process of Getting It Less WrongOne of the major themes that Lewis Thomas touches upon in his essays, is his perception of science as a process of "getting it less wrong", that there is no such thing as a capital T truth. Lamentably, the greater part of us have not been taught to obse science along these lines, regularly, we are not educated to scrutinize the possibility of actualities, just to assimilate them.

Personal Connection

Recommendation: Lewis Thomas’ twenty nine essays changed the way I view the world. His writing covered such a diverse spectrum of topics and still managed to bring across a really meaningful lesson to me. It makes you realise that, the more you know, the more you know just how little you know. Humanity has come to view itself as a separate force from the natural world; something fundamentally different from the rest of life on earth, however in the very first, short essay in the book, this is explained not to be true. I was also able to relate certain topics back to previous learning; last year my science term project revolved around what is known of the phenomenon ‘extraterrestrial life. ’ In Thomas’ essay ‘Ceti,’ on page 40, he speaks of life beyond earth and theAnd I can therefore recommend this book to almost anyone. Anyone who is interested in what lies beyond what the eye can see. Whether that is on a microscopic level or a scale beyond the stars,; I can guarantee you this book will shift your vision beyond your perspective.

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