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Ingram, D.H. (1975). The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Louis Thomas, The Viking Press, New York, 1974, 153 pages. Am. J. Psychoanal., 35(4):383-384.

(1975). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 35(4):383-384

Book Reviews

The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Louis Thomas, The Viking Press, New York, 1974, 153 pages

Review by:
Douglas H. Ingram, M.D.

For several years Dr. Louis Thomas has been writing an occasional column for The New England Journal of Medicine, entitled “Notes of a Biology Watcher.” The essays in this book originally appeared in the journal during 1971, 1972, and 1973. Each essay — there are thirty in all — is a gem of knowledge and insight, stylistically polished with merriment and elegance.

Sometimes it seems that the body of science is weighted down by orthodoxies and traditions, yet over on the fringes our radical thinkers, our colleagues in the “basic sciences,” are vigorously challenging customary assumptions. It was, for example, an altogether tidy notion that the cell is the smallest single unit of life. As recently as the mid-1960's, that view was embraced and taught in our medical schools. But modern science assumes no conceptual fixities; it insists on a troublesome fidgetiness. Scientific exploration is leaping about with theories and hypotheses that are stupefying, and that is the riveting theme of Thomas’ collection of essays. Although it is delightful to be challenged by novel ways of understanding newly acquired facts, it is also somewhat frightening to discover that old, happy, and well-used assumptions may be abandoned. Thomas reassures us in confessing that he too feels this way. From his perspective as a cellular physiologist, as a lobbyist in governmental circles for funding basic sciences, and as administrator and chairman of various departments of medicine and pathology, Thomas has ample experience to aid the fundamental humanistic endeavor.

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