There is a great descriptive book written by American researcher Thomas Lewis, which made many people change their attitudes to life and look differently on the planet and its parts. I am among those people as well. Lewis’ collection of twenty nine essays formed an exceptional book, which became a masterpiece. Its name is The lives of a cell: Notes of a biology watcher. In my opinion, this book revolutionized the way people thought of life organization on the Earth and changed their points of view on many problems.
Reading this book reminded me of reading a fairy tale not just because it is beautifully phrased: the way Thomas Lewis compare planet, people, plants and other creatures with different organisms using scientific terms will amuse every reader. The author looks on everything from a cellular point of view and gradually builds a picture of the World as of the whole system, which consists of tiny pieces.
The pivotal issue of The lives of a cell is the problems of our planet Earth. Its comparison with a cell is the first thing that comes to mind of every reader who is being asked about the content of this book. The most famous quote that reflects the overall sense of the book presents our planet as a well- organized body:
I have been trying to think of the earth as a kind of organism, but it is no go. I cannot think of it this way. It is too big, too complex, with too many working parts lacking visible connections. The other night, driving through a hilly, wooded part of southern New England, I wondered about this. If not like an organism, what is it like, what is it most like? Then, satisfactorily for that moment, it came to me: it is most like a single cell (Lewis, 1978, p. 141).
Although this book covers various topics such as human evolution, micro- biology and other scientific aspects, the reader should not necessary be a biologist or Doctor of Medicine to understand what the author wanted to tell in his book. It is understandable for everyone who is being interested in world evolution, its changes and the role human being plays in destroying it: “Watching television, you’d think we lived at bay, in total jeopardy, surrounded on all sides by human-seeking germs, shielded against infection and death only by a chemical technology that enables us to keep killing them off” (Lewis, 1978, p. 113).
Thomas Lewis uses various literature techniques to make some examples more obvious for readers. All his chapters are built on a contrast of big and small, comparison of right and wrong, confrontation of visible and invisible for human’s eye. Lewis knows how to make ordinary facts poetic and finds ways to encourage people to think about issues they are used to in everyday life. The same facts one can find in a regularly biology book are presented amazingly different and stimulate everyone to act:
Everything in the world dies, but we only know about it as a kind of abstraction. If you stand in a meadow, at the edge of a hillside, and look around carefully, almost everything you can catch sight of is in the process of dying, and most things will be dead long before you are. If it were not for the constant renewal and replacement going on before your eyes, the whole place would turn to stone and sand under your feet (Lewis, 1978, p. 112).
As it was stated earlier, the main technique used by author in the book is a metaphor. Lewis does not only compare our Earth with a cell, but also parallel groups of human with termite mounds, locusts and ants. Therefore, the overall topic of his whole work is an evolution and paradox of a human community who lives on the biggest, but in the same time on the tiniest cell.
Lewis’ language and the art of comparison he uses, bring this book to a height where it can be proudly called Poetry of Biology. Although this book is based on scientific researches, it is written as a fiction:
The act of smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking. Immediately at the moment of perception, you can feel the mind going to work, sending the odor around from place to place, setting off complex repertories through the brain, polling one center after another for signs of recognition, for old memories and old connection (Lewis, 1978, p. 86).
The lives of a cell: Notes of a biology watcher by Thomas Lewis brings the reader to another planet, where the society is presented as a colony of ants, whose complex interaction is closely connected to reality we live in today. There will definitely be no indifferent readers and everyone will find in this book something unique, something that will satisfy any biological demands of any reader. Therefore those, who did not like biology before, will visit the world of this magnificent science with the help of Thomas Lewis.
Lewis, T. (1978). The lives of a cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. London: Penguin Books.