• darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    I am interested in becoming more scientifically literate, and have made evolutionary biology my focus. What are your suggestions for books? Technical works are acceptable, though more general introductory books are preferable.

    Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life seems the obvious candidate, but a more contemporary read seems good too.
  • Ying
    223
    While I don't have any books I can recommend when it comes to evolution, I do know of a few lecture series:

    -"Major Transitions in Evolution"
    https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/major-transitions-in-evolution.html
    -"Origins of Life"
    https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/origins-of-life.html
  • Ilyosha
    33
    I know that Dawkins has become a bit of a parody of himself, but don't let that dissuade you from reading early Dawkins if you have not already. The Selfish Gene is the obvious answer among the books you chose not to mention, and I think that's with good reason. It's great! Also, have you read any Daniel Dennett?
  • StreetlightX
    3.5k
    The Selfish Gene is unfortunately super outdated and rather badly misleading now, so I'd strongly advise against it. Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence For Evolution is still great though, and a really fun read.

    My go-to is Jablonka and Lamb's Evolution in Four Dimensions, which can be nicely coupled with Sean Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful for an easy introduction to 'evo-devo'.

    Carroll can be a bit 'pop-sci' at times, and a more philosophically weighty book covering similar topics would be Susan Oyama's The Ontogeny of Information, which is one of my favorite books ever.

    One of my favourite books I've read so far this year has been Richard Prum's The Evolution of Beauty, which aims to restore sexual selection back to it's rightful place as a fully fledged mechanism of selection in its own right, which I think is both vitally important and massively overlooked, and might even obliquely fit in with your readings on Levinas, if you squint a bit.

    I also think Andreas Wagner's works on genome networks are indispensible for a full understanding of evolution, and his Arrival of the Fittest being his pop-sci intro, and The Origins of Evolutionary Innovations being his more technical - but quite readable - work on the topic.

    Darwin himself is great so long as you go in knowing that he wrote before the discovery of any mechanisms of heredity (the ways in which changes got passed down - genes, etc), so his account is missing one of the major facets evolution. I'd suggest getting to him after some other, more modern reading.
  • javra
    750
    Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life seems the obvious candidate, but a more contemporary read seems good too.darthbarracuda

    In terms of basic principles that are universal to all life—this rather than the mechanisms via which these principles apply—everything contemporary will be an interpretation of the original you’ve listed. “Origin of Species” is well argued, well structured, with plenty of examples, and will appeal to the philosophically minded with interest in the topic. It is the 101 of any biological evolution reasoning which makes concrete the foundations to which mechanisms can then be applied and, even today, yet proposed.

    If you read it and like it, also try his The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals—though short on mechanisms, it too is very philosophically robust, well-supported with evidence, insightful, with special attention given to the cognitive evolution of life.

    Ditto to this:
    Forget The Selfish Gene, it's outdated science and badly misleading outdated science at that.StreetlightX

    In terms of accessible new stuff that isn’t pop-sci, The Genial Gene is a well-supported alternative perspective to that which the culturally beloved Dawkins provides. Though a bit of the underdog since it emphasizes the cooperation required for life to be.
  • Purple Pond
    458
    I liked Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyne.
  • Bitter Crank
    7.6k
    I found "Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body" by Neil Shubin informative and an enjoyable read. Obviously the human body hasn't been around for 3.5 billion years, but some of our genes are very ancient and ancient fishes established the vertebrate body plan which we share.

    As I recollect, the Origin of the Species is a doorstop of a book, and commendations to you for planning to get through it. I haven't read anything by Darwin, but I believe every word he wrote.

    Just remember, Darwin didn't know about Gregory Mendel's studies of plant inheritance, so he couldn't apply Mendel's insights.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.6k

    If you are interested at all in the possible genes involved in the evolution of the human brain, The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates The Complexities of Human Thought was a good one because it delved into some genes and proteins responsible for particular brain activity and functions. It is however, a short book so you'd have to move onto larger ones if you wanted a deeper understanding of the concepts he introduces.
  • Mariner
    366
    If you are interested in the science rather than the philosophy or the "pop-sci" approach, the best bet is a textbook. 20 years ago we used Douglas Futuyma's "Evolutionary Biology". These books usually have revised and updated editions. Check it out.

    The 90's version of it was very thorough, not excessively mathematical, and grounded in a huge amount of sources.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    Incidentally, Darwin cites Schopenhauer in The Descent of Man. It's brief, though. Anyway, from what I can remember from my list:

    Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist by Adrian Desmond, James Moore

    Asimov's New Guide to Science by Isaac Asimov

    What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr

    Books by Michael Ruse: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Ruse
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Thank you all for the suggestions.
  • T Clark
    3.2k
    What are your suggestions for books?darthbarracuda

    I was surprised when I read Origin of Species by how well written it is. It felt like watching someone building a wall - brick by brick, fact by fact, one on top of another until the work was done. There is a feeling you get when you're reading real science rather than a summary or popularization. When I go to primary sources, I always seem to find out something that surprises me. Darwin's view of evolution as described in OoS includes consideration of evolution by inheritance of acquired characteristics, Lamarckism. I'd never heard that mentioned anywhere else.

    One of my favorite writers of any kind is Stephen Jay Gould, who died in 2002. His books are wonderful. My favorites, such as "The Panda's Thumb" and "Ever Since Darwin," are collections of essays he wrote for "Natural History." They almost all focus on Darwin and evolution. Gould was one of the primary witnesses in many federal trials against teaching creationism or intelligent design in school science classes. He is also extremely erudite and eclectic in his interests. He loves to write about baseball and chocolate bars, but it all comes back to Darwin by the time he's done.

    One of the things I like best about Gould is the way he treats historic scientists whose ideas might not match our current understanding. Although he was a fervent opponent of teaching creationism, he has very sympathetic and respectful things to say about the scholars who established the famous 6,000 year old earth. Within the context of their time and understanding, they were respectable and rigorous. I learned a lot about how science, especially observational science, works and what truth is. Here's one of my favorite Gould quotes. I use it a lot on the forum.

    In science, ‘fact’ can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’
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