What Books Do the Scholars Recommend for Lay People?

I am wondering whether the scientists here could comment on the one book in their field that they wish lay-people like me read.

There are too many books in the world, and no real guidance.

Frankly I am horrendously uninformed, at some point in my life I would like to become a bit more so. That said, I will never become a scientist and I know a high level book will not make me one. Can’t hurt to get a bit of a better simplified understanding though


That is a great question @ho_idiotes.

Carl Zimmer is an excellent and highly readable author on biology and evolution. His latest book, She has her mother’s laugh, is about genetics and heredity and has received lots of praise. Though it is sitting on my shelf, I have not yet read it.


Not a book but an excellent beginner’s overview of evolution can be found here

Understanding Evolution

Then depending on what piques your interest there are lots of specialized books on paleontology, evo-devo, tetrapod colonization of land, Cambrian explosion, etc.

Of course Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale is always a good place to start.


This is not a popularization, but I think you might find it readable: Speciation, by Jerry Coyne and H. Allen Orr. Also the textbook Tree Thinking, by David A. Baum and Stacy D. Smith. And while we’re on the subject of textbooks, Evolution, by Doug Futuyma.

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Zimmer’s book is on audible. I get my next credit soon, so will grab it then. Thanks


Thanks all, any more suggestions welcome, but I will start looking up these and try to find time

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Here’s a book I think more people should read:

It’s a textbook, but fairly accessible.

Nice, thanks. I will add it to the list.
I spent too much on books by Brill this month, so will need to wait a bit before spending another 40!

Besides more formal textbook material, here are a few pop-sci books that are well worth reading.

Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene is an outstanding book, and seeks to explain how seemingly selfless and cooperative behavior can in principle evolve from what is essentially the self-interests of genes.

Anything by Nick Lane is excellent. I’ve read three of his books,
Power, Sex, Suicide - Mitochondria and the meaning of life
Life Ascending - The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
The Vital Question - Why is life the way it is?
and they were all outstanding. They largely deal with similar topics(ongoing research into the origin of life, and the role that endosymbiosis might have played in the origin of mitochondria and eukaryotic cells), and the last one is his latest and most up to date on current research.

Oh and I somehow missed the thread title. I’m not a scholar, but the books are well worth reading anyway! :slight_smile:

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I will add dittos to The Selfish Gene and to anything by Carl Zimmer.

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner won a Pulitzer Prize and is one of my favorite books that involves evolution. You will meet the Grants and be inspired by their commitment to the long-term project of the Galapagos finches. Another great read is The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen, in which you will meet Alfred Russell Wallace and learn about biogeography and extinction. Both of these books are not “technical” and are instead stories about people and places. I recommend both of them very highly.

I suppose it matters also what you care to learn about, because there is far more to science than evolution. What do you care about?

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Oh, yes: Improbable Destinies, Jonathan Losos. Thorough treatment of convergent evolution with examples from his own studies.

More to science than evolution? How dare you sir :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

To be honest, I am an equal opportunity reader. My primary interest is in languages but really I am open to being exposed to anything. Without suggestions I am unlikely to know that I might enjoy it. For example, I am currently reading a book chapter on dynamic syntax, just because it was in a book on something I have an interest in. I had never heard of it before and am not competent to really understand it, but I like the challenge. Even just to start to comprehend the complexity that I wasn’t aware of is enjoyable for me

If the material is up to date and is accessible enough with some effort put in, then I am open to finding something interesting.

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Since no one else mentioned it:

Another favourite of mine is this one, explaining in a lot of detail the process of human development from fertilised egg to baby (TL;DR simple signalling leads to complex patterns):

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On the fish one, I think I once heard that the testes develop inside as an embryo and come out during as the foetus grows and that this is some sort of evolutionary throwback to fish?

Indeed, this is covered on pages 195-196 of the book.

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Very good online intro to geology.

I usually recommend starting with Chapter 7.

An interesting new book that folks may not know about, aimed at us laypeople is “Not Born Yesterday” by Hugo Mercier. Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe: Amazon.co.uk: Hugo Mercier: 9780691178707: Books

It deals with trust gullibility and communication from an evolutionary perspective
Some fascinating things in there on the behaviour our of animals that seems counter-intuitive, such as leaping up and down when seeing a predator, or issuing warning calls even when habitually alone. He explains such behaviour in terms of letting the predator know that they have seen it, and not necessarily just warning others of the predator. He carries the notions involved over to human communication

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