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I am currently reading "The Chemistry of Life" by Rose. It's a great book (to me as a lay reader at least) and an interesting topic so I am interested in pursuing some of the further reading he suggests.

The first book he mentions in the bibliography is Alberts' "Molecular Biology of the Cell". Looking at the description and the reviews it seems that this is a pretty advanced bio-sciences graduate level text, and I am very much not that. I see that Alberts has also written "Essential Cell Biology" which looks more accessible. Before I buy this I wondered if anyone can explain the difference, which would be a better read for an enthusiastic amateur?

If it helps at all I am a science grad and I typically read authors such as Dawkins and Matt Ridley, but I'm looking for something a little bit more rigorous to expand my knowledge in cell biology.

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Don't know about "Essential Cell Biology" but "Molecular Biology of the Cell" is the classic textbook for Biology undergraduates. If you start at the beginning you should be all right :). – terdon Oct 23 '12 at 12:49
Ah, right. I think undergrad level is what I'm after. Thanks! – Steve Haigh Oct 23 '12 at 12:56
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Might as well make it into an answer. As I said in the comments, Albert's "Molecular Biology of the Cell" is the classic textbook for Biology undergraduates. It has been so for decades now.

It starts from the basics and builds up. Anyone with a high-school science education and willingness to learn should be able to understand it. Just work your way through it :).

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I'd agree - it seems like a graduate text, but there isn't really a simple way to break down Mol Bio. – shigeta Feb 18 '13 at 2:09

I've actually got a copy of Essential Cell Biology on my desk currently, it's one of our core textbooks.

When comparing with the "look inside" feature on Amazon for Molecular Biology of the Cell (remembering I only have access to the first few pages) I would suggest that Essential Cell Biology certainly takes a slower pace, but I wouldn't say that it was less detailed.

It goes into great efforts to explain how we know things experimentally, which I personally find quite helpful. The pictures in Molecular Biology of the Cell look almost identical, however I would say they are more copiously used in essential cell biology. Essential Cell Biology also comes with a DVD including very useful animations of cell processes.

Comparing the glossaries, I would still be inclined to say they are covering very similar levels of material, however Essential Cell Biology is using more 'entry level' language.

The key difference between the two in my opinion is the copious use of images in Essential Cell Biology - it's almost half a picture/diagram book. In your situation (pretty much identical to mine) I'd probably recommend Essential Cell Biology just as a start then move on to Molecular Biology of the Cell as everyone else rates it so highly.

Finally, Essential Cell Biology certainly has some kind of sense of humour:

Essential Cell Biology Back Cover

Geek Spoiler:

The bottom line reads C A G T whilst the top line reads G T C A in semaphore, two complementary strands of DNA bases acted out for your amazement...

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Nice answer. Unrelated to the content of the answer, I was wondering how you created that spoiler that only showed text when one rolls the mouse over it. – mring Oct 24 '12 at 19:41
Hi @Pete - just add a <! before the paragraph, similarly as for a quote :) – Rory M Oct 24 '12 at 21:54

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