The Top 5 General and Cell Biology Textbooks of 2021

Excelling in biology courses can be challenging due to their fast-paced nature and the relative complexity of content. Often an extensive amount of information is covered in a short period of time, and many students struggle to quickly digest numerous terminology and fine details. Whether you are a student taking a biology course or a professional looking to maintain your knowledge of the field, one of the biology textbooks that we have selected is likely to serve as a useful companion to your coursework, tool for independent learning through self-study, or practical reference resource. Our team may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made through the below links at no additional cost to you.

We believe that the best biology textbooks of 2021 are:

  • Molecular Biology of the Cell
  • Essential Cell Biology
  • Campbell Biology
  • Essentials of Biology
  • Board Review Series Cell Biology and Histology (for medical students)
  • The Princeton Review’s AP Biology Premium Prep (for high school students)

Molecular Biology of the Cell by Bruce Alberts is a valuable resource for both students and professionals involved in the field of cell biology. Containing over 1400 pages of rich content, this readable textbook provides a detailed account of molecular and cell biology, covering a vast amount of information while maintaining a well-structured, focused, and relatively easy-to-understand narrative.

The textbook not only introduces fundamental concepts but also provides insight into the experiments that led to their discovery, including connections to primary literature articles that some readers will find helpful for further study. Alberts’ text is accompanied by detailed and visually appealing illustrations, informative tables, and problem sets that support the learning process.

Whether at the graduate school or undergraduate level, students taking a molecular and cellular biology course will find Molecular Biology of the Cell useful for mastering course material. In addition, professionals whose career intersects with cell biology may find that the book’s broad scope and high level of detail render it a useful reference resource. A number of scientists, physicians, and other professionals have a copy of this textbook on their bookshelf as a tool for reviewing important concepts.


Essential Cell Biology, written by the author of Molecular Biology of the Cell, is a shorter 864-page textbook ideal for students taking an introductory molecular and cellular biology course or individuals interested in reviewing key concepts at a lower level of detail. The textbook is very readable and presents key aspects 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.

Students that prefer to take their textbook to class or the library each day should know that Essential Cell Biology is considerably lighter-weight than Molecular Biology of the Cell and would be easier to transport. However, though less dense than Molecular Biology of the Cell, Essential Cell Biology is not a quick read and may be more detailed than some individuals would prefer.


Medical students will find both Essential Cell Biology and Molecular Biology of the Cell helpful for preparing for the USMLE Step 1 exam as many of the cell biology concepts in the core USMLE curriculum are covered in these books.

However, students seeking a more condensed book or one specifically dedicated to the USMLE Step 1 exam should consider using Board Review Series Cell Biology and Histology, whose outline format, focus on USMLE material, and over 320 board-style questions support the rapid review of cell biology content.

We believe that the best biology textbooks for medical students are Molecular Biology of the Cell (or, for a more abbreviated text, Essential Cell Biology) and Board review Series Cell Biology and Histology.


Campbell Biology, currently in its 12th edition, is a classic general biology textbook ideal for undergraduate students taking an introductory biology course or high school students taking AP Biology. Despite introducing concepts at a relatively high level of detail across over 1400 pages, this textbook has a clear and engaging writing style and is easy-to-understand.

The breadth of knowledge presented in this book is impressive, as topics ranging from plant biology to molecular genetics are discussed. Both students and professionals may find Campbell’s textbook an effective tool for learning or reviewing general biology concepts, and biology majors should consider keeping a copy of this textbook on hand throughout their undergraduate education and beyond.

In particular, Campbell Biology may be useful to high school students preparing for the AP Biology exam, as key concepts on the exam can be learned from this book. However, keep in mind that this textbook was not specifically written as an AP Biology resource and may have a higher level of detail than some individuals prefer. Students seeking a shorter, more condensed resource should consider using The Princeton Review’s AP Biology Premium Prep book, which is not only specifically dedicated to covering AP exam material but also includes 6 full-length practice tests.


Essentials of Biology by Sylvia Mader and Michael Windelspecht is a 720-page introductory general biology textbook that presents concepts with a lower level of detail, focused narrative, and relative simplicity ideal for beginning students.

While concepts are not introduced with the breadth or depth of Campbell Biology or Molecular Biology of the Cell, the relatively broad coverage of 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 resource.


Keep in mind that the information available in a textbook is always less up-to-date than that within the primary literature. If you would like to learn about the latest research in your field, we suggest that you consult a literature search engine such as PubMed or Google Scholar.

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