Book Review - Essential Cell Biology

Danny Yee danny at
Sun Feb 8 03:31:51 EST 1998

     title: Essential Cell Biology
          : An Introduction to the Molecular Biology of the Cell
        by: Bruce Alberts, Dennis Bray, Alexander Johnson
          : Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts + Peter Walter
 publisher: Garland 1998
     other: 630 pages, exercises, solutions, glossary, index

Produced by the same team that brought us the classic _Molecular Biology
of the Cell_, _Essential Cell Biology_ is an introductory text suitable
for newcomers to the biological sciences.  It covers the topics expected
of such a volume: basic cell structure and metabolism, proteins, DNA
(and DNA technology), gene regulation, membranes and membrane transport,
mitochondria and chloroplasts, compartments and transport, signaling,
the cytoskeleton, cell division and the cell-cycle, and tissues and
development.  No biology or chemistry background is assumed -- quite basic
chemistry is explained, not just reaction energetics and kinematics but
even atomic structure and the different kinds of chemical bonds.  But this
is done without fuss and without ever letting the biology slip from view.
There is some treatment of laboratory methods, but only where they fit
naturally into the understanding of the biology.

_Essential Cell Biology_ has excellent diagrams (consistently labelled
and coloured throughout the text), a good selection of photographs,
and clear and readable explanations.  It has the common apparatus of
textbooks (an opening summary and a list of keywords for each chapter,
and a glossary), but the outstanding pedagogical feature is the set of
questions which accompany each chapter.  Great effort has been taken to
make these interesting and thought-provoking, and full answers to all
of them (not just the numerical ones) are provided.  A minor complaint
is the absence of any references or further reading suggestions: simple
pointers to the relevant sections of _Molecular Biology of the Cell_
would have been easy but useful.

It is obviously intended as a university or senior high school text, but
_Essential Cell Biology_ is so well put together for self-study that I
recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.  It is non-repetitive,
conceptually rigorous, and doesn't cut any corners, so it could happily
be read by academics from other disciplines -- but at the same time it
is a book which could inspire a bright 12 year old.  Writing for readers
without any background knowledge is actually harder than writing for
graduates, so I think _Essential Cell Biology_ is actually a greater
achievement than _Molecular Biology of the Cell_.


Disclaimer: I requested and received a review copy of _Essential Cell
Biology_ from Garland, but I have no stake, financial or otherwise,
in its success.


%T	Essential Cell Biology
%S	An Introduction to the Molecular Biology of the Cell
%A	Bruce Alberts
%A	Dennis Bray
%A	Alexander Johnson
%A	Julian Lewis
%A	Martin Raff
%A	Keith Roberts
%A	Peter Walter
%I	Garland
%C	New York
%D	1998
%O	hardcover, exercises, solutions, glossary, index
%G	ISBN 0-8153-2045-0
%P	xxii,630pp
%K	biology

8 February 1998

        Copyright (c) 1998 Danny Yee (danny at

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