Rhodes Scholar, renowned oncologist, contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Times. Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Emperor of All Maladies" and bestselling "The Gene." Just 52, Siddhartha Mukherjee has checked off the summa boxes, kindling envy in the hearts and minds of lesser mortals, i.e. the rest of us. But this polymath is not one to rest on his laurels. His intrepid imagination now shifts to the basic unit of all life; his erudite, panoramic new book, "The Song of the Cell," delves into the galaxies that blaze around and within us.

As with his previous books, Mukherjee fleshes out a historical arc with portraits of heavyweights — van Leeuwenhoek, who spied "animalcules" in an early microscope — as well as obscure figures such as Schleiden and Virchow as they cumulatively laid the foundation for the discipline of biology, insights mortared upon observations.

But Mukherjee devotes the bulk of "The Song of the Cell" to our physical selves, from that fusion of sperm and egg to a proliferation of daughters, numbered in the tens of trillions, forming bones and organs, the many regulatory systems that sustain us. He riffs beautifully on caretakers like white-blood cells as well as haywire malignancies that defy treatment.

He lightens dense, arcane science with revelatory anecdotes sprinkled with memoir: In his chapter on neurons, for instance, he writes poignantly of his depressive episode in 2017, "Depression is a flaw in love. But more fundamentally, perhaps, it is also a flaw in how neurons respond — slowly — to neurotransmitters. It is not just a wiring issue ... but rather a cellular disorder — of a signal, instigated by neurotransmitters, that somehow malfunctions and creates a dysfunctional state. ... It is a flaw in our cells that becomes a flaw in love."

He pivots elegantly to therapies — SSRIs, electrodes — that have helped lift the fog of crippling moods. And as we've learned from the pandemic, T-cells police the body for intruders like the SARS-CoV-2, poised to strike.

Mukherjee is an elegant stylist, occasionally prone to a ripe line, but an assured and genial guide. He engages other authors who share his passion for the biosphere, among them acclaimed journalist Ed Yong and particularly British evolutionary geneticist Nick Lane, whose professional mission is to pinpoint the molecular processes that birthed the first cell and led to the domains of bacteria and archaea, adrift on oceans over three billion years ago. (A merger — perhaps more akin to a gulp — between these two nucleus-free forms spawned eukaryotes, cells with nuclei.)

Unlike Lane, Mukherjee is content to let the unknowable remain in peace: "There is one question that we will not and, perhaps, cannot answer. The origin of the modern cell is an evolutionary mystery. It seems to have left only the scarcest of fingerprints of its ancestry or lineage, with no trace of a second or third cousin, no close-enough peers that are still living, no intermediary forms. Lane calls it 'an unexplained void ... the black hole at the heart of biology.' "

A contributing books editor for Oprah Daily, Hamilton Cain reviews for a range of venues, including the Star Tribune, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post and Boston Globe. He lives in Brooklyn.

The Song of the Cell

By: Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Publisher: Scribner, 473 pages, $32.50.