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January 20, 2023

The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

As some of you are aware, I have a degree in biology. I wanted to be a zookeeper which I did for a year. Now I write about science. Partly because I want to improve my own science writing, partly because I like reading about science, and a tiny part of why I wanted to read this book is because I work in an adjacent field.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of science nonfiction book The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee
October 2022; Scribner; 978-1982117351
audio, ebook, print (496 pages); nonfiction

Cell biology is so not my preferred area of biology. I put off taking the required Cell Biology course in college until my very last semester. It was rumored that as long as you showed up to class every day and tried you would walk out with at least a C. I was so lost in that class that I didn't even study for the final (not that it really mattered because for one test he just gave us the figures from the book chapters and asked us to write the captions - we never looked at the figures in class). I gladly took the C and graduated. Ironically, years later I got a job as an assistant to a cell biology professor. 

I read Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Gene and found it informative so when I saw he had a new book coming out about the cell I thought it was an opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in my own education plus the knowledge base is so much greater now than it was two decades ago when I was in college. 

One of my favorite college courses was the history of biology (taught by the same professor that taught my cell biology course - but I made an A in the history of biology). So the opening sections of Mukherjee's The Song of the Cell were my favorite as it was about the history of medicine and the impact the discovery of the cell had on medicine.

Mukherjee tried to make the book accessible to a wide audience of science enthusiasts. He often gave a broad, generic description, stripping out most of the science jargon, but then he would dig a little deeper with a little more science and jargon. I write about immunology and parasitology and I know how difficult it can be to explain some of the science so I really thought he did a good job. 

He also shares a number of case studies to bring the science out of the lab and into real-world situations. Probably every science nonfiction book written since 2020 will mention SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and this book is no different. Mukherjee is an oncologist so there are several examples of blood disorders and cancer. 

I knew from reading The Gene that this was going to be a long read. And I enjoyed most of this book. Toward the end, I got kind of bored with it. I probably should have taken a break from reading it. A lot of information is covered and it might have just been information overload by that point.

If you are a science student or just like science, then this is definitely a book to pick up.

Buy The Song of the Cell at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I was curious as to how accessible this would be. My daughter just did Cell Biology this last semester (she’s studying Forensic Science) and said it was the toughest class she’s done.