Book reccomendations on evolutionary biology wanted

I am really interested in evolutionary biology, and as I am also trying to read more non fiction books… well, you can see where this is going.

I’ve read Guns, Germs and Steel and am due to read The Third Chimpanzee soon, both by Jared Diamond. Any other recommendations?

Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins are the big names in popularizing evolutionary theory, but I don’t know that either of them wrote a comprehensive introduction for the layperson.

I’m not exactly a layperson, I am doing a minor in Biology. Do you think their styles would preclude them being read for amusement, though?

No, definitely not. One of Dawkin’s better books, The Extended Phenotype, is aimed at biologists but accessible to the layperson.

Since you do have some background in the subject, you might want to check out this book, Gould’s magnum opus. Not exactly the sort of thing you’d go through quickly, but very likely worth the effort (I haven’t read it myself due to a lack of time).

Are you interested in something technical, or written for a more general audience? Douglas Futuyma has an excellent textbook if you want to go for “technical”. Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory is also a pretty thick read (literally and figuratively). Any of Gould’s Natural History essay compilations (e.g., Hens’ Teeth and Horses’ Toes, The Flamingo’s Smile, Bully for Brontosaurus, and so on) are easily accessible to a general audience and provide a good overview on the theories, as well as the history and philosophy, of evolutionary biology. Ernst Mayr has some nice light stuff (What Evolution Is), as well.

And, of course, if you are really interested in the topic, you should probably start with the “source”, so to speak: The Origin of Species. While it is technical, it is also written quite well – assuming you are keen on 19th century prose.

Origin of the Species is indeed on my bookshelf. I’m going to be reading it with a book club at some point in the future, though, so I’m putting it off.

I’m not going to say no to something overly technical, but I would, at this point anyway, prefer something fun to read. I checked out the catalogue for my local library and they have a whole bunch of Gould’s essay compilations, plus some other stuff too. I’ll check those out.

The other names are going down on my list.

My personal little-known favorite is “At Home in the Universe” by Stuart Kauffman. He uses computer models and analogies to explain how and why abiogenesis and evolution, far from being wildly improbably, are natural and expected consequences from a complex system. In other words, we should be surprised if we had a sufficiently complex soup of molecules and life didn’t show up.

Excellent stuff, though he veers a bit off-topic toward the end.

And, BTW, I thought The Third Chimpanzee was far inferior to Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Almost anything by Stephen Jay Gould is fun and a lot about evolutionary biology. I’d also enthusiastically recommend David Quammen, who is a mix of travel/adventure/outdoors writing and solid biological discussions. Fun and enlightening. Neither one requires advanced knowledge, either, and may inform you.

I’ve found some good stuff just by finding their books in the library and browsing that shelf (can’t remember any particular ones right now). Oh, wait, I remember one about the evolution of limbs, which did a tremendous job of showing how evolutionary change can only work with what’s available in the process of growth and development (i.e. why an extra toe mutation is easy, but a ‘put wings in the middle of your back’ mutation is impossible). (and I’m not just saying that because I knew the guy who discovered tje ‘sonic’ gene, which is heavily mentioned) Arrgg, can’t remember the name, though. If it comes to me I’ll let you know.

Jared Diamond is interesting, though his books tend toward far more speculation and interesting ideas unsupported by real evidence than Gould or Quammen or most serious science writers. There’s nothing wrong with speculation, as long as the reader understands the difference.

I just thought of another good work for a general audience: Darwin’s Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated, by Steve Jones. It’s pretty much what the title says: a modern update of The Origin of Species, in modern prose, using examples that may be a little more familiar to the average reader than, say, pigeon breeding to demonstrate variation and artificial selection.

Overall, it’s a decent book, but it isn’t quite as in-depth as the original.

While not nearly as dense as the books already mentioned, The Seven Daughters of Eve is an interesting look at the evolution and spread of the humans from a few (seven, even!) specific females.

Worth a read.

Jonathan Weiner’s The Beak of the Finch is a fascinating study of evolution in our time. It won the 1995 Non-fiction Pulitzer.

For another view, try Robert J. Sawyer’s CALCULATING GOD. It’s a novel, but it set forth some interesting points about a higher-being-designed universe. And I’m an atheiest.

I would put Gould’s Wonderful Life on the list. It illustrates some points about evolutionary pathways that aren’t often discussed in other books.

I’m a social science type, but I found this extremely interesting and very readable. Basically it’s about why the really big animals on land and in the ocean are mammals, but in freshwater they’re reptiles.

Dawn of Human Culture by Richard G Klein & Blake Edgar

Extinct Humans by I an Tattersall & Jeffrey Schwartz

Children of the Ice Age By Steven M Stanley

The Money in the Mirror by Ian Tattersall

The Neanderthal’s Necklace byJuan Luis Arsuaga

Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan is also quite interesting even if one of my anthropology professors dismissed it with a laugh. His son Dorion has co wrote a book called Up From Eden. Its on my to read this year list.

And for good old fashioned controversy read Richard Leakey and Donald Johansons stuff. They don’t collaborate… they try to kill each others theories. Then go read Tattersall where he puts BOTH of them into their place. :smiley: I just love the politics of evolution!

Another vote for The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. Outstanding book.

Extinct Humans. Very good.

Carl Sagan and Ann Druyans Shadows of forgotten ancestors is really good. Calr Sagan’s always been one of my favorites.

Edward O Wilsons On Human Nature , another really cool one.

Richard Dawkins Climbing Mount Improbable

Sorry but there are much better choices than The Origin of Species. Where science is concerned going to the original source is overrated. I would suggest:

The Selfish Gene, by Hawkins
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, by Daniel Dennett

Ooooooookay the book is actually called Up from Dragons … I guess I was in a pseudoSteinbeck mode yesterday.