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The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human (Hardcover)
Winner of the 2023 Chautauqua Prize
Winner of the 2023 PROSE Award for Excellence in Biological and Life Sciences and the 2023 Chautauqua Prize!
Named a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year by The Economist, Oprah Daily, BookPage, Book Riot, the New York Public Library, and more!
In The Song of the Cell, the extraordinary author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Emperor of All Maladies and the #1 New York Times bestseller The Gene “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 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.
Filled with writing so vivid, lucid, and suspenseful that complex science becomes thrilling, The Song of the Cell tells the story of how scientists discovered cells, began to understand them, and are now using that knowledge to create new humans. Told in six parts, and 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 on what it means to be human.
“In an account 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).
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
“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