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The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher ()

National Book Award: Non-Fiction

In isolation, an essay by Lewis Thomas is a lovely thought provoking gem of clear and concise writing.  Taken together, they have a weird kind of cryptototalitarian essence to them.

Thomas was a doctor and President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who wrote a column for the New England Journal of Medicine.  His main concerns were music, language, medicine and social behavior.  It is the cumulative effect of his pieces on social behavior that I found frightening, his obsession with man as a social creature, a cog in a vast biological machine, as opposed to an individual with free will.  In fact, part of his effort here is to make it clear that we're not even a particularly significant cog or, at the very least, we're not that different from the other cogs.

This denigration of man in general and the individual in particular is pretty creepy stuff.  I couldn't shake the feeling that Thomas's feelings on these matters would be shared by other doctors, like Dr. Mengele and Dr. Kevorkian and Dr. Strangelove...  It just seems like the logic of his arguments also underlies social planning and genetic engineering and euthanasia and a whole panoply of other bad ideas that expert technicians have tried, or are trying, to foist upon us.

So I guess I sort of like the book, a little bit at a time.  Consumed in one big gulp, it's like peering into the abyss; it offers the creepy fun of a Hannibal Lecter novel.


Grade: (C)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Obit (The Scientist)
    -Interview by Peggy Langstaff (Book Page)
    -REVIEW: The Fun of Being Undermined (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: The Mystery of the Libidinous Molecule  (C.H. WADDINGTON, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine-Watcher by Lewis Thomas Calling Dr. Thomas  (STEPHEN JAY GOULD, NY Review of Books)

Other recommended books by Lewis Thomas:
    -The Youngest Science : Notes of a Medicine-Watcher
    -The Medusa and the Snail : More Notes of a Biology Watcher
    -Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony