The machinery of life

The machinery of life

David Goodsell 

New York, US: Copernicus Books (An Imprint of Springer Science and Business Media) 2009 | 167 pp | ?19.99 (HB) 

ISBN 9780387849249 

Reviewed by Michael Smith 

Anyone who finds biology, especially modern biology at the molecular level, quite baffling and bristling with incomprehensible jargon - this could be the book for you! David Goodsell takes us on a tour of the molecular machinery inside cells in a way that only truly excellent communicators of science can. Not only is the text superb, but the illustrations blow you away: vibrantly coloured, carefully drawn images that beautifully convey the busy, complex world going on inside each of us. 


Beginning with the concept that all living things are made up of cells, we are taken from an understanding of scale and speed of molecular motion, through the various different classes and functions of biomolecules and onto energy metabolism. From bacterial cells we move on to human ones and discover why compartments in cells are a good idea. Life and death at the cellular level comes towards the end of the book with a delightfully entitled final chapter on You and your molecules  which focuses on vitamins and toxins. 

If there was one criticism it might be that even more could have been covered in the book (biology is a huge subject!). However, as the introduction points out, it is not meant to be comprehensive and indeed it is remarkable that so much is covered in such a handy little volume (24 x 16 cm approx). An excellent gift, then, for anyone interested in learning about biology in an enjoyable way. A book bursting with colour and genuinely difficult to put down - one less Christmas present to puzzle over!  

Along the way, and almost without realising it, we are brought up to speed with some of the most topical questions in biology including: why aging happens, drug resistance in HIV, why we don’t have a vaccine for the common cold, the role of p53 in cancer cells and reasons why chemotherapy causes hair loss. 

As an associate professor of molecular biology, member of the Molecular Graphics Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute in California and author of the Protein Data Bank’s Molecule of the Month  feature, we would expect the author to know a thing or two about biological molecules. However, David Goodsell is clearly a master of communication, conveying complex biological processes with great clarity.