The Top 5 General and Cell Biology Textbooks of 2020

A review of five general and cell biology textbooks for high school, undergraduate, medical, and graduate students and professionals.

Textbooks resting on a table.

Learning key concepts in biology can be challenging, particularly for high school, undergraduate, medical, and graduate students taking fast-paced biology courses. Often a large amount of information is covered in a short period of time, and given the relative complexity of biology sub-topics such as cell signaling, having effective study tools is important for academic success. These general and cell biology textbooks, based on their style and content, are likely to serve as a useful companion to coursework or tool for independent learning through self-study. Our selection also includes advanced books that scientists, physicians, and other professionals may find useful for reviewing fundamental concepts or as a practical reference resource. Our team may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made through the below links at no additional cost to you.


Molecular Biology of the Cell is a valuable resource for both students and professionals involved in the field of cell biology. The textbook is highly readable and provides a detailed account of molecular and cell biology, covering a vast amount of information while keeping content clear and relatively easy-to-understand. The book is well-structured and maintains a focused narrative but also bears a level of detail that professionals would find useful. Molecular Biology of the Cell not only introduces fundamental concepts but also provides some insight into the experiments that led to their discovery. The text is accompanied by detailed and visually appealing illustrations and informative tables that support the learning process.

Students taking a cellular and molecular biology course, whether at the graduate school, undergraduate, or high school level, will find this textbook useful for mastering course material and achieving academic success. Molecular Biology of the Cell could also serve as a reference resource for professionals whose career involves the application of biology concepts. A number of scientists, physicians, and other professionals have a copy of this textbook on their bookshelf as a resource for reviewing important concepts.


Campbell Biology, currently in its 12th edition, is a classic biology textbook ideal for students taking an introductory biology course at the high school or college level. The book has a clear and engaging writing style and is easy-to-understand despite introducing concepts with a relatively high level of detail. The breadth of knowledge presented in this book is impressive, as topics ranging from plant biology to genetics are discussed. Both students and professionals may find this textbook an effective study aid for learning or reviewing general biology concepts.

In particular, we recommend this textbook for high school students preparing for the AP Biology exam, as most of the key biology concepts are covered in sufficient detail and supported by explanations and problem sets provided to enhance learning. Biology majors should consider keeping a copy of this textbook on hand throughout their undergraduate education and beyond.


Essentials of Biology by Sylvia Mader and Michael Windelspecht is an introductory biology textbook that provides a satisfactory overview of general biology with a lower level of detail. The textbook has a focused narrative and level of simplicity helpful to beginning students.

While concepts are not introduced with the depth of Molecular Biology of the Cell, the broad coverage of general biology and easy-to-understand writing style would be of benefit for students more interested in learning general concepts than fine details. High school or undergraduate students taking one or two semesters of biology coursework but not majoring in biology should consider using this textbook as a study aid.


Human Biology: Concepts and Current Issues by Michael Johnson is well-suited for college or high school students taking a human biology class. The textbook introduces the biology of the body systems, such as the digestive and respiratory systems, and also concepts of relevance to human health including genetic engineering and aging among other topics.

While studying human biology can be challenging due to the vast amount and relative complexity of information, the clear structure and relatively easy-to-understand writing style of this textbook should support students at all levels of training. Professionals whose career relates to human biology should consider keeping a copy of this book on hand as a reference resource.


Essential Cell Biology, written by the author of Molecular Biology of the Cell, is a shorter textbook ideal for students taking an introductory molecular and cellular biology course or individuals interested in reviewing key concepts without studying ultra-fine details. The textbook is very readable and presents key concepts of prokaryotic and eukaryotic biology with attractive and informative illustrations. Content, illustrations, and questions are well-connected and support mastery of key concepts without confusing the reader with the level of detail of Molecular Biology of the Cell.

For students that prefer to take their textbook to class or the library each day, it should be noted that Essential Cell Biology is considerably lighter-weight than Molecular Biology of the Cell and would be easier to transport in a backpack.

Medical students may find Essential Cell Biology helpful for preparing for the USMLE Step 1 exam, as many of the cell biology concepts in the core USMLE curriculum are covered in this more concise and readable textbook.

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