Molecular Biology of the Cell (Sixth Edition) Sixth Edition
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"Throughout the book, emphasis is placed not just on what 'we know' but also on 'how we know' and 'what remains to be discovered'- important for engaging and enthusing students....A quarter of a century after the first edition revolutionised cell biology textbooks, the new edition is as fresh, comprehensive and above all, as readable as ever....Like its predecessors, this is a superb textbook for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students."
-British Society for Developmental Biology Newsletter, Summer 2008, Vol. 29, No. 1
"Professors, lecturers, and instructors will find the fifth edition of the book Molecular Biology of the Cell and its accompanying Problems Book to be an excellent choice for guiding their students through the maze of the cell's molecular structures and biochemical processes....With countless colorful illustrations and a large number of photographs and tables, reading the text becomes not only an educational experience, but also a highly enjoyable one for those students who wish to discover the inner workings of the magnificent cellular machine....Educators will also find the DVD-ROM to be a rich electronic resource when compiling their lectures....No less important is the Problems Book, which contains numerous exercises and questions that are an integral part of the learning process, and that teachers, instructors, and students are sure to appreciate."
The Quarterly Review of Biology, September 2008, Volume 83, Number 3
About the Author
Bruce Alberts received his PhD from Harvard University and is Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco. For 12 years, he served as President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1993-2005).
Alexander Johnson received his PhD from Harvard University and is Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Director of the Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Genetics, and Developmental Biology Graduate Program at the University of California, San Francisco.
Julian Lewis received his DPhil from the University of Oxford and was a Principal Scientist at the London Research Institute of Cancer Research UK.
David Morgan received his PhD from the University of California, San Francisco , and is Professor of the Department of Physiology as well as the Vice Dean for Research for the School of Medicine at UCSF
Martin Raff received his MD from McGill University and is at the Medical Research Council Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology and the Biology Department at University College London.
Keith Roberts received his PhD from the University of Cambridge and is Emeritus Professor at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.
Peter Walter received his PhD from The Rockefeller University in New York and is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
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This review is based (mostly, see update at the end) on the Kindle edition of the book, which is a "Print Replica" edition which exactly matches the printed textbook (it's essentially like a PDF of the entire book). For textbooks, even the most valuable (like this one) that I love and plan to keep for a long time, I now much prefer electronic versions for many reasons, not the least of which is that it's easier to hold up and read a tablet than a seven pound tome. You can also zoom in on text and figures as needed, and the illustrations are almost all in "vector" form meaning they stay sharp and detailed as you zoom in. You can also search the complete text of the book, do electronic underlining, set bookmarks, etc.
Yes, the Kindle textbooks have DRM that restricts what you can do with it, but I find the Kindle restrictions less onerous than many, and in most cases they give you an option to "rent" textbooks for the duration of a class which might be as economic as buying a physical copy and then reselling it when you're done with it. But if you want complete freedom to resell what you buy, or maybe you just like the feeling of holding a real book in your hands, then the printed copy would probably be what you want. Note that I believe the physical version comes with a disc containing the movies and supplemental materials for the book (turns out it doesn't, see update below), but you can also find all of this free on the Garland Science web site if you buy an e-book version.
So with that out of the way let's talk about the book! There are basically two groups of people who are likely reading this. Either you've had this book assigned as the textbook for a class or you haven't. If this has been assigned as a textbook, first make sure you're looking at the correct edition. This sixth edition is very different from the fifth (the authors point out that five million scientific papers were written since the previous edition) and you might *not* get away with buying a cheaper used previous edition. If your class is going into enough depth that it needs this book over something like Essential Cell Biology, 4th Edition then chances are you really do need the correct edition. Also the sixth edition is brand new as of this writing, so make sure you're not being asked to get the previous (fifth) edition!
This is one of my favorite textbooks of all time. A really good textbook is designed to prepare students to be practitioners in a field, not just to try to keep bored students awake and hold their hands through a class they really wish they didn't have to take. This is a great textbook and it's THE book to get if you want to learn as much about cell biology as is possible from one volume. It's also now entirely fresh and up to date (as of 2014), something absolutely critical in a field like Biology which advances daily. Everything in here is fascinating. If you think this stuff is boring then I feel sorry for you :) Life is cells, and this is "everything we know about how cells work" so it's directly applicable to an understanding of every (known) form of life, from bacteria to you and me. Even if your class doesn't go down into the depths and fine details, this is a great book to have for later self-study if this stuff interests you. This can be a textbook you keep for years and refer to frequently.
This is also a surprisingly accessible work for those interested in learning about modern Biology on their own. If you're someone who is scientifically minded and wants to understand how life works, then most of what's in here is easily comprehensible and highly enjoyable. Unlike many fields, there aren't years of prerequisites needed to start the study of cutting-edge Biology. If this were Physics, you would need to have had ten years of math and boring low-level physics before you could ever hope to begin to understand things like quantum mechanics or the general theory of relativity. But there's no math requirement for understanding Biology (though it's starting to become more quantitative and newer fields like Physical Biology are growing rapidly). A little knowledge of concepts from Chemistry is helpful, but again very little of the discussion in this book is quantitative so there's generally nothing to calculate, no equations to solve, etc. Cell Biology is much closer to something like computer programming in terms of the mental aptitude needed to understand it. To get started I recommend reading chapter 1 thoroughly, then read chapter 2 but if your eyes start to glaze over then just skip the rest of chapter 2 for now (the chemistry, while obviously fundamental and critically important is not necessary to understand deeply in order to understand the rest of the book, just as you don't really need to understand voltages and transistors in order to learn to program a computer), and then read Chapter 3 thoroughly which is all about how proteins perform most of the work in the cell including acting as microprocessors, motors, pumps, etc. By that point you'll likely be hooked and you can go back and appreciate the rest of chapter 2 when you're ready for it.
So how does this Sixth edition compare too the Fifth? Well, first of all it has been seven years since the previous edition, which is nearly forever in the world of Biology, so just on that basis alone the new edition is going to be a big advance. In general the fundamentals are the same, but the fine details of understanding have advanced a great deal.
An ongoing problem for the authors is the incredible volume of knowledge that exists and the near infinite and subtle complexity of even the simplest cells. This means the book could easily be three times its current size, a pressure which the authors must find a way to resist if the book is to remain portable and affordable. In the fifth edition, the book exploded past its covers and the standard edition was forced to relegate the last five chapters to PDF supplements (a huge Reference Edition with over 1600 pages was available with all chapters printed, and the e-book versions include all chapters). This was not a popular decision as it meant that even after buying and lugging around a big expensive tome, you still didn't even have all the content printed.
The sixth edition now includes the entire content of the book, and there's no need for a "Reference" edition. This means however that even though the printed book has gotten slightly longer, they have had to shorten the effective size by about 250 pages! This has resulted in a lot of editing and a reduction in the number of figures. In some cases this means more effective and concise content, but in other places interesting material and in-depth discussion has been eliminated. Taking as an example chapter 4, Control of Gene Expression, the current edition has 79 figures where the previous edition had 115. Also the chapter on Sexual Reproduction has been eliminated entirely (you can download the fifth edition version of this chapter as a PDF, see the update below) though some of its material has been integrated into other parts of the book.
I cannot help but wonder if the authors have really made the right decision here. Choosing to reduce the (effective) size of the book by around 15% at a time when knowledge in the field is growing so rapidly seems rather limiting. I would personally have rather seen them embrace the idea that many of their readers will be using e-books where the length has no physical effect, or even consider breaking the book into two volumes as is often done in fields like the study of medicine. But in the end this is still intended to be a textbook, and many students will likely appreciate anything that reduces the number of pages they have to read :)
A lot of work has been done to clean up the design, and they have re-created many illustrations in a more consistent style. This edition uses a pleasant blue theme in comparison to the reddish-pink of the fifth edition. It has a cleaner look overall, and I think the changes in title/heading color are a definite improvement for on-screen reading. There are a few places where figures include small areas of white-on-lime-green text that I have to zoom in on to read, but generally the changes are improvements.
The content in general has been brought up to date with many sections extensively updated or re-written. Interestingly, as a sign that classic quantitative methods from Physics are starting to creep further into Biology, there's an extended section in chapter 8, Mathematical Analysis of Cell Functions, which gives some mathematical (ZOMG! some math in a Biology book!) treatment to things like gene product equilibrium and gene regulation and serves as a good introduction to the field of Physical Biology, which is another interesting way of approaching the study of life (if you find this interesting then I can also recommend Physical Biology of the Cell which I bought and have been enjoying).
Anyhow, MBoC gets all the stars as being one of those magical books that takes you deep into a whole new and fascinating world, one where you'll learn how each individual cell in your body has much more in common with a modern supercomputer than it does with that soggy old frog you dissected in high-school. The practice of modern cell biology is nothing less than hacking into alien computer systems (not designed by the mind of man) looking for technology we can appropriate or adapt to cure disease, reduce world hunger, produce clean cheap energy, and otherwise improve our lives.
An exciting book for exciting times.
Update: I've now purchased a copy of the physical book as well, just because I like it so much. It's a six pound, 13 ounce tome that's two inches thick. It's hardbound, and has the same feel and quality as the Reference edition version of the fifth edition. Paper quality (thickness, brightness) are again similar to the fifth edition. It's definitely not as lap-crushing as the old Reference edition (that extra pound or so makes a big difference).
The physical book does NOT come with CD media for the supplemental movies and stuff, so you need to go to the Garland Science site to find them (under the Student tab you can search for the movie numbers from the book without needing to create an account, or you can create an account and add the book to it to make accessing things a little easier). The GS site still seems to be rolling out information on the new edition so at some point they may have a page/site dedicated to the book as they have for some other recent textbooks. They have also now added a downloadable PDF of "MBOC, Fifth Edition - Chapter 21: Sexual Reproduction: Meiosis, Germ Cells, and Fertilization" in the sixth edition downloads area. This chapter got eliminated from the sixth edition (the meiosis section in the Cell Cycle chapter was extended a bit to compensate) so this is a useful reference to have.
Update 2: I just picked up the new version of Molecular Biology of the Cell 6E - The Problems Book and it's got many VERY nice improvements over its previous version. It should really be considered "part two" of the textbook. There's a huge amount of additional knowledge in here and it's great to just read, not just as a workbook. Go check it out.
UPDATE: I have increased my rating to 4 stars, as I have somehow been granted access to the videos on wwnorton .com. However, it was a convoluted process requiring multiple emails and conflicting responses from the publisher. First I was told that the vidoes were not available. Then I was given a link to the videos, but was asked to pay over $100/year to access them. Finally, they purchased the subscription for me. All ended well, but I'm not sure everyone will have a positive outcome. It will depend on who you talk to at customer service.
Top international reviews
I used it when studying for my Advanced Cell Biology module. The content is good, very nicely broken up into key cell topics. It has great diagrams which explain key concepts, and also has nice summary paragraphs.
The book arrived in good condition, and was definitely worth the money.
This book is complete in every aspect.
Beginning with the knowledge it contains, going through the factology, illustrations, presentation and readability of the content, I would say that the creative work done is exclusive.
Well done and thank you Amazon,