Perhaps not the first time, but certainly one of the most eloquent and thought-provoking exposition of the wonderfully complex subject of biological development. The author first seems to invoke a parallel relationship of development and creativity as yin and yang, but finishes off the book with an intriguing explanation that human creativity is itself a byproduct, consequence, or continuum of development.
The Biology undergrad or grad student may have grasped the fundamentals of developmental biology from "Molecular Biology of the Cell" (Alberts, Watson, et al), "Developmental Biology" (Gilbert), or "Genes, Embryos, and Evolution" (Gerhart and Kirschner). Enrico Coen's book, however, certainly provides a fresh outlook of plant and animal development rich with comparisons to artistic creativity, hidden colors, scents and sensitivities, interpretations, elaborations, and refinements. This outlook also raises the question of whether genes that dictate development can be compared to instruction manuals or artists painting their canvas---in the case of development, the instruction and execution are inseparable, and the genes are affected by the organisms they produce in a similar way that the artist responds to his/her own creation.
Anyone with a molecular biology background can worry less about the details of gene regulation, differential gene expression, and protein-DNA and protein-protein interactions. By focusing instead on metaphors or analogies in art and creativity, delving in Dr. Coen's thoughts becomes an enjoyable exercise in imagination. On the other hand, readers who need more grounding in basic molecular biology may find the analogies daunting, but Dr. Coen explains the formidably complex and amazingly orchestrated system of the development of the multicellular organism very well. The reader acquires a new appreciation of development using the mind's color receptors and chemical senses.
I wonder, as a non-developmental biologist, if Dr. Coen has inadvertently left some gaping holes in trying to explain left-right asymmetry. Briefly he ascribes the establishment of this asymmetry to the intrinsic lefthandedness or righthandedness of the building blocks of life, e.g., D-amino acids and L-sugars/monosaccharides. This leaves me wondering whether so much more has been found or observed recently to provide a basis for this morphological asymmetry other than ascribing it to the intrinsic asymmetry of molecular building blocks.
This book will nonetheless stand out as a unique perspective and exposition of one of biology's most perplexing and still most interesting phenomena.