THE CENTER OF LIFE: A Natural History of the Cell by L. L. Larison Cudmore
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THE CENTER OF LIFE: A Natural History of the Cell

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A cell biologist lyrically describes her inamorata--the cell, the basic unit of life everywhere. There are the ""prokaryotes""--primitive cells without nuclei--and the ""eukaryotes""--cells with nuclei that gave them the capacity for togetherness, organization, and specialization into organs, systems, bodies. Among her favorites are the protists--the microscopic one-celled organisms with nuclei. She makes it abundantly clear that we denigrate ""the"" amoeba, a diverse group including species with names like Chaos chaos, Noctiluca (the organism responsible for the night luminescence of ocean waves), or Stentor--named for the trumpet-voiced herald of the Iliad. She traces the course of evolution from non-life to life, following Stanley Miller's theory and test-tube creations of organic molecules. She is particularly vocal in her defense of the theory that the mitochondria, the chloroplasts, and the contracting fibers present in eukaryotic plant or animal cells are the latter-day descendants of prokaryotes that moved in during early symbiotic coziness. The themes of later chapters--the genetic code, locomotion, communication, energy, and death--are universal characteristics of life that allow her to move from protist to musk ox or discourse on sex or the sun as the ultimate source of energy. This is a charming, thoughtful, and informative book, full of literary allusions from Blake to Nabokov. At times the author may be faulted for a phrase too fulsome or an argument overstated, but this may be her zeal to explain or convey her enthusiasm. One looks forward to reading what she will write next.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1977
Publisher: Quadrangle/New York Times