Essential Cell Biology:
An Introduction to the Molecular Biology of the Cell

Bruce Alberts, Dennis Bray, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts + Peter Walter

Garland 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 1998
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.

February 1998

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%T Essential Cell Biology
%S An Introduction to the Molecular Biology of the Cell
%A Alberts, Bruce
%A Bray, Dennis
%A Johnson, Alexander
%A Lewis, Julian
%A Raff, Martin
%A Roberts, Keith
%A Walter, Peter
%I Garland
%D 1998
%O hardcover, exercises, solutions, glossary, index
%G ISBN 0815320450
%P xxii,630pp