Athena Aktipis: Cheating Cell

Cheating Cell

Cheating Cell


Athena Aktipis
Princeton University Press, March 24, 2020, $24.95
ISBN-10: 0691163847; ISBN-13: 978-06911638

Aktipis reports:

I study cooperation across systems, from food sharing in small scale societies to cooperation inside our bodies. After I started working on cancer as a problem of cellular cheating about ten years ago, I saw the need for a book that covered the science behind cancer’s evolutionary nature while being accessible to a broad audience.

In The Cheating Cell, I explain that cancer is a breakdown of the cellular cooperation that otherwise characterizes multicellular life, and tell how cheating cells can get an evolutionary leg up on the normal cells around them. In a normal multicellular body, cells cooperate to share resources, divide labor, and regulate cell death and division. All this cooperation breaks down in cancer.

Cheating Cell

Cheating Cell

I also write about why cancer still exists from an evolutionary perspective (partly because cancer susceptibility can accompany traits like wound healing and fertility) and I discuss how and why cancer can evolve to be transmissible. —Don’t worry; that’s vanishingly rare in humans.

About seven years ago, Princeton University Press approached me about writing a book about evolution and cancer. After they accepted my book proposal, I spent several years working on a first draft, first as a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (the Wissenschaftskolleg), and then as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Working on the book was a natural extension of my research. Nevertheless, I spent several years unable to produce full drafts of chapters. It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to have 48-72 hours at a time without distraction that I was finally able to make true progress on the book. I wish I would have known this from the beginning.

The biggest advice I would give to aspiring authors is to figure out how to create an environment where you can give your full attention to your book. Allowing the book to have its own space in my otherwise overburdened academic schedule allowed me to truly enjoy writing this book. I already am looking forward to making time for my next one.

Contact info:

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Mar. 25, 2020

Advance Copy

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

Publication of NASW members' reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions.

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