The Master Builder: How the New Science of the Cell Is Rewriting the Story of Life

Alfonso Martinez Arias

Book cover for The Master Builder: How the New Science of the Cell Is Rewriting the Story of Life
Book cover for The Master Builder: How the New Science of the Cell Is Rewriting the Story of Life

The Master Builder: How the New Science of the Cell Is Rewriting the Story of Life

The Master Builder: How the New Science of the Cell Is Rewriting the Story of Life

Alfonso Martinez Arias

  • Become a member to save 50% off your first order and then 30% on all future orders. Simply add any book to cart and you’ll see an option to become a member
  • 100% of this book's profits go to our community of authors.
Get 50% off your first order, and then 30% off everything
Member Book Price
Monthly Membership
First month free, renews at $5.00

Log in to access your Membership or Book Club price

  • Allstora Membership will renew at $5/month, cancel any time
View full details


"An ingenious argument" (Kirkus) for a "novel thesis" (Publishers Weekly) 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.

About the Author

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. 

Critical 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

"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

"An ingenious argument... A rich, detailed exploration of the vitality of cells."--Kirkus

"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

"What came first, the chicken or the egg? In The Master Builder, Alfonso Martinez Arias poses a different question: what drives biology, genes or cells? His surprising answer shines new light on the fascinating riddle of development and offers a majestic cell's-eye view of life itself."--Lee Billings, author of Five Billion Years of Solitude

"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)

"Provocative... timely and needed. Highlights of the book include the many fascinating historical and evolutionary perspectives presented and Martinez Arias's discussion of key experiments." --Science Magazine

"[A] revolutionary book on cell biology"--Nature

The Master Builder is a great read and an exciting introduction to developmental biology.--Mark Terry, The American Biology Teacher

Publishing Information

Publisher: Basic Books
Pub date: 2023-08-01
Length: 352 pages

The Allstora Membership

Membership Perks:

  • Save 30% on all online store purchases
  • Exclusive access to author's content
  • You pay less, but authors still earn double

Membership Terms:

First Month: $0.00
Monthly price: $5.00
  • To access membership discount simply log in and add to cart, discount applied automatically.
  • One month free trial, cancel anytime. Membership renews on the 15th of each month.