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Biology for physicists?

  1. Oct 5, 2008 #1
    Does anyone know of any good books (preferably not introductory textbooks, otherwise I'll never get through them) geared towards or recommended for physicists who are learning biology for the first time? Something like the equivalent of Feynman's Lectures would be perfect, but I'm open to any suggestions (including more "pop-sciency" kind of books, like the Selfish Gene as an example).
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  3. Oct 11, 2008 #2


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  4. Oct 13, 2008 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    It's not clear where you want to get started- genetics, neuroscience, physiology, biochemistry... Biology is a much larger field than Physics. Here's a couple that you may find useful:

    "Life in Moving Fluids" (Vogel)

    "Mechanics of the Cell" (Boal)

    "Principles and Techniques of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology" (Wilson and Walker)

    A comprehensive book is "Moelcular Biology of the Cell", but that's definitely a textbook.
  5. Oct 13, 2008 #4


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    I have to say I've got several modern "standard textbooks" on both biochemistry and molecular biology and althogth they are solid bricks they are well structured and you can skim some parts and read some parts more carefully.

    If you read them as a physicists for inspiration, there's no need to get hung up on details and although they are dense, I find it easier to read a bio book selectively, than it is to read a math book selectively. Other may disagree but when it comes to biology, from the point of view of a physicists I am not sure I see the point in getting a pop book. I'd say it's not a bad idea to get a authorative standard textbook suited for a fresh bio student and instead read/skim it selectively. I've never read a pop sci book on biology.

    I find that most of the hands on molecular biology requires most prerequisists in physical chemistry, some of the regulatory and evolutionary parts of cellular life gives fascinating associations to self-organisation and the therby related "logic of evolving systems".

  6. Oct 21, 2008 #5


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    You want to learn it for the first time, but don't want an introductory textbook? Perhaps if you explain that a bit more, what your objection is to an introductory textbook, we could recommend something more suitable. It would be a bit hard to read a more subject-specific text if you don't have the background of the intro text. The exception I've encountered are a handful of anatomy and physiology texts that are written for the high school level for students with no other chemistry or biology background. Unfortunately, we're using one of these for our nursing students right now, because the next level up of textbook is too advanced for them (this is my new project, writing a textbook at an appropriate level for them that assumes some biology and chemistry background, but not too much). Personally, I hate the books written at that level. Some of the content is inaccurate (some simplification is needed at that level, but it's overly simplified in some places to the point of being just plain wrong), and the tone of those books is painful. The one we use is written like a parent trying patiently to explain something to a 5-year old. It's just something about the sentence structure that comes across almost condescending in tone. I can't explain it, but it annoys me. I haven't asked the students if they perceive it that way too, but I should (I'm not keeping the text for the course any longer than necessary...next year I'll start supplementing with my own material as I get chapters completed).
  7. Oct 30, 2008 #6
    For anyone moving into immunology (like I did) or anyone who's just generally interested, I would heartily recommend "How the immune system works" by Lauren Sompayrac. My only regret about the book is not discovering it earlier.

    For genetics (which I studied alongside physics during my degree), I'd recommend "Human molecular genetics" by Strachan and Read.
  8. Nov 24, 2008 #7
    Molecular Biology of the Cell....I dread this book. It is quite informative, but if you are use to reading physics texts that are often provoking of questions, or at least have derivations or reasons presented outright to work though, you may find this text painful. The text was written for biologist. Biochemists will have hard time with this text, at least to some degree.

    What I would suggest would be picking up an entry-level biophysics textbook or a P.Chem text book designed for biochemistry students (they do exist!)
  9. Nov 24, 2008 #8


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    I have this book and though it's around 1500 pages I think it's an most excellent book! I would recommend it. But then I am a fan of "thick books". Although cellular biology, molecular biology and biochemistry have alot in common different books given different angles. I think it depends on what one wants to accomplish. To understand the chemical composition of a lipid membran is one thing, to understand how the fysiological properties of cell membranes help the cell survive and reproduce and handle stress.

    I don't think it's too hard to read. To speak for myself I think both angles (the big picture biology and evolution of LIFE angle) as well as the reductionist chemistry angle are both important to get a feeling for the complexity of biology.

    Reading such a book you might be amazed how such a tiny cell, has evolved such a heavy and impressive machinery to do it's tricks. I think there is also some decent chapters on how organisms encode information and how the encoding techinques are developt in that book. (gene regulations, various cross regulations etc) When you read this as someone more used to physics, interesting associations take place. It did for me. I have never read the pop bio books thought so I can't compare.

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