Student review: Life: The Science of Biology

February 25, 2010

Authors: David Sadava, David M. Hillis, H. Craig Heller and May R. Berenbaum

Edition: Ninth

Publisher: Sinauer Associates and W.H. Freeman and Company

Pages: 1,121

Price: £49.99

ISBN 9781429254311

Given its 1,000-plus pages and all-encompassing title, Life appears a daunting read for even the most enthusiastic students. However, this engaging textbook gives panoramic yet comprehensive coverage to the essentials of biology in a student-friendly way.

Each of the numerous topics addressed is explored using diagrams, analogies and experimental history, before being summarised and discussed, thereby promoting student understanding, not just recall. Few books succeed in covering such a wide spectrum of topics in depth while maintaining reader interest and here lies the strength of this book.

First impressions suggest the book is ecologically based, which initially may be off-putting to molecular and microbial biologists. Nevertheless, Life explores the chemical, genetic and cellular basis of organisms before progressing to evolution, population dynamics and animal behaviour. It therefore contains something for every biologist. The extensive supplementary material available on the accompanying website (thelifewire.com) provides further expansion of topics, and will be beneficial for visual learners and students who struggle with particular key concepts.

Given the book's meticulous attention to detail and broad subject coverage, suggesting a suitable target audience presents a problem. It contains an unnecessary amount of detail for an introductory text, yet advanced students may prefer a book that focuses singularly on their topic of interest.

However, undergraduate students will find the book useful as a core text, providing an ideal starting point for essay research and further reading.

Life provides a clear factual basis that allows the reader to understand key concepts before exploring the scientific literature for finer details.

The book is finished to a very high standard with photographs, diagrams and illustrations contributing to the majority of the material. These illustrations often reinforce the ideas proposed in the text and contribute to a deeper understanding of the topic.

On the other hand, some pictures appear to serve no purpose other than decoration, which may distract the reader from the significant information in the text, being there for style rather than substance. This flaw could be overlooked, however, if the pictures were found to trigger concept recall during revision.

Overall, I would recommend Life to all undergraduate life sciences students as a high-quality course staple and revision guide. However, second- and third-year students should be advised that investment in more topic-specific books may be necessary.

Who is it for? Undergraduate life sciences students as a core text.

Presentation: Exceptional.

Would you recommend it? To the above target audience, yes.

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