30 December 2011

The Processes of Life

The Processes of Life: An Introduction to Molecular Biology was recommended to me as "Molecular Biology For Computer Scientists" (the author, Lawrence Hunter, is a Lisp hacker!), and it is a very good introduction to how living things work at the molecular level.

The text covers: the universal processes of life (and covers just enough chemistry to do so), the organization and development of living things, what goes wrong in living things e.g. cancer, and the state of the art in biotechnology. But throughout, the focus is on understanding processes as examples of regulation (i.e. modulation) and feedback, and living structures as machines or as information-bearing components; and looking at molecular evidence for certain evolutionary explanations. Therefore, engineers and others with a technical background can easily benefit from some cross-domain transfer without getting bogged down in chemistry.

Hunter's writing is lucid and engaging, and he gets to the point very quickly. (In fact, and I didn't think I would be saying this, the book is a page-turner in places.) The core of the book is just about 250 pages, and at $39, it's a great deal, too. For any non-biologist who is interested in learning about the wondrous designs that living things embody, I would recommend reading this book before delving into any introductory-level college text, which is likely to cost more, be many times longer, and contain more chemistry than you are really going to want or need to know.


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