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The Master Builder Summary and Reviews

The Master Builder

How the New Science of the Cell Is Rewriting the Story of Life

by Dr. Alfonso Martinez Arias Ph.D.

The Master Builder by Dr. Alfonso Martinez Arias Ph.D. X
The Master Builder by Dr. Alfonso Martinez Arias Ph.D.
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Book Summary

A leading developmental biologist argues that cells, not DNA, hold the key to understanding life's past and present.

What defines who we are? For decades, the answer has seemed obvious: our genes, the "blueprint of life." In The Master Builder, biologist Alfonso Martinez Arias argues we've been missing the bigger picture. It's not our genes that define who we are, but our cells. While genes are important, nothing in our DNA explains why the heart is on the left side of the body, how many fingers we have, or even how our cells manage to reproduce. Drawing on new research from his own lab and others, Martinez Arias reveals that we are composed of a thrillingly intricate, constantly moving symphony of cells. Both their long lineage—stretching back to the very first cell—and their intricate interactions within our bodies today make us who we are.

Engaging and ambitious, The Master Builder will transform your understanding of our past, present, and future—as individuals and as a species.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] revelatory study. Developmental biologist Martinez Arias's first book for general readers pushes back against the notion that genes are 'the architects of our bodies,'...Martinez Arias's novel thesis invigorates, and the lucid scientific discussions will hold readers' attention even through involved examinations of how cells respond to specific proteins. This is the perfect complement to Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Song of the Cell." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A fascinating argument that what makes a human is 'not a unique set of DNA but instead a unique organization of cells and their activities'...Martinez Arias makes a convincing case that cells, with assistance from DNA, gave rise to our species and all the others. A rich, detailed exploration of the vitality of cells." —Kirkus Reviews

"In The Master Builder, Alfonso Martinez Arias makes a timely, important and compelling case for why an understanding of living organisms must start with the cell. He offers a vision of life that shows it to be much more interesting and ingenious than any simplistic notion of genetic blueprints can provide." ―Philip Ball, author of Critical Mass and The Book of Minds

"The essence of science is that we never stop asking, do we see clearly, or have we fooled ourselves into certainty? In The Master Builder, we follow that question into the cell, where DNA is said to rule. What Alfonso Martinez Arias has found is much more interesting: cells themselves, which we inherited from a long line of ancestors stretching back to the earliest life, are at least as integral to creating who we are as the genes each carries. This book makes a new and stunning argument, not so much that we should put DNA in its place, but that we can see the grandeur of life as it truly is." ―Azra Raza, author of The First Cell

"DNA is often claimed to be 'the master molecule,' determining everything about us. DNA is now… in our cultural DNA. But in this masterful account, geneticist and developmental biologist Alfonso Martinez Arias shows that, on its own, DNA is powerless, inert. It needs a cell to work its wonders, and that cell is always interacting with the environment. This cell's-eye view of life is powerful and striking, helping to reveal why DNA is not the ultimate determinant of ourselves. Identical twins are not identical down to their fingerprints – fingerprints, handedness and many other characteristics are not genetically determined. This clearly explained, beautiful book will change how you think about DNA, about how you came to be, and about life itself." ―Matthew Cobb, author of As Gods

This information about The Master Builder was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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More Information

Alfonso Martinez Arias is ICREA Research Professor in the department of systems bioengineering of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. The recipient of numerous awards, he is coauthor of the biology textbook Principles of Development, which was awarded the Royal Society of Biology book prize. He lives in Barcelona, Spain. 

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