(p. 10) In his new book, “The Song of the Cell,” Siddhartha Mukherjee has taken on a subject that is enormous and minuscule at once. Even though cells are typically so tiny that you need a microscope to see them, they also happen to be implicated in almost anything to do with medicine — and therefore almost anything to do with life.
. . .
If Mukherjee were another kind of storyteller — tidier, if less honest — he could have showcased a more linear narrative, emphasizing how developments in cell research have yielded some truly amazing possibilities. He himself has been collaborating on a project to engineer certain cells in the immune system so that they eat tumors without stirring up an indiscriminate inflammatory response.
But as a practicing physician, he has seen too much suffering and death to succumb to an easy triumphalism. He recalls the “exuberance” of the mid-2000s, when spectacular advances in gene sequencing had made it appear as if “we had unlocked the key to cures for cancer.” Such exuberance turned out to be fleeting; the data from clinical trials were “sobering.”
Many medical mysteries remain unsolved. If the book’s protagonist — our understanding of cell biology — seemed to be riding high again on new advances in immunology, such “self-assuredness” was laid low by the Covid-19 pandemic. Mukherjee presents a string of questions that are still unsettled. “The monotony of answers is humbling, maddening,” he writes. “We don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know.”
For the full review, see:
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review was updated Nov. 2, 2022, and has the title “Siddhartha Mukherjee Finds Medical Mystery — and Metaphor — in the Tiny Cell.”)
The book under review is:
Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human. New York: Scribner, 2022.