Monday, April 04, 2005

Evolution Books

P.Z. Myers has offered up this list of books to read about evolution. I recognize most of them, and am happy to concur with his assessment. Some of them I was unfamiliar with, and they have now been added to my personal “Books to Read” list.

However, there were a few books that I found especially useful when I was first learning about this subject that Myers does not mention:

  • Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller. I do not agree with Miller's theological ideas, but the book's first half is about as clear an explanation of why creationism and ID are a lot of nonsense as you could hope for. He also shows that thoughtful Christians have nothing to fear from evolution.

  • Science on Trial by Douglas Futuyma. An excellent presentation of the evidence for evolution and a strong refutation of the common YEC arguments. This was written before ID replaced YEC as the dominant form of anti-evolution nonsense, but it's arguments are still useful and relevant.

  • Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, The Flamingo's Smile, Bully for Brontosaurus by Stephen Jay Gould. These were the first five anthologies of Gould's Natural History essays. They provide fascinating commentary on many aspects of evolutionary theory. Gould's later essay collections were good as well, but they tended to move more towards history of science and away from science. Gould had his hang-ups about certain topics, like sociobiology and selfish genes, but his essays are essential reading nonetheless.

  • Darwin's Ghost by Steve Jones. A chapter by chapter updating of The Origin of Species Spekaing of which:

  • The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. The one that started it all. Surprisingly still interesting and relevant.

  • Abusing Science by Phillip Kitcher. A careful and thorough demolition of YEC written by a prominent philosopher.

  • Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins. I like this one even better than The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins shows convincingly that complex biological systems show far more evidece of being the products of evolution than of being the products of divine intervention.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll think of others later. But those were a few I found especially interesting and helpful.


At 7:19 PM, Blogger Muness Alrubaie said...

My favorites include:
* The Selfish Gene - a look at evolution from the gene's eye view, as Dawkins puts it. Seleciton after all happens to genes. Also introduces the concepts of replicators which are essential to understanding evolution in general (not just to genes, but to other systems).
* The Extended Phenotype, also by Dawkins. A masterful book that for example, dedicates an entire chapter to the meaning of the word fittest (as in the survival of the). Really an excellent read for those wanting to understand how genetic selection works (context!) to achieve the remarkable variety we witness.
* Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Quite simply, the evolution primer. A solid look at evolution what it really means and why it is contentious and otherwise "dangerous".

I'd also suggest reading some of Lynn Margulis' work on symbiosis which is a very important part of the bigger picture: evolution selects at one level. Without a grasp of symbiosis, one can't fully appreciate the beauty of eukaryotes.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger MDS said...

I would add Janet Browne's two-part biography of Darwin, which I've reviewed on my blog,

At 2:32 PM, Blogger IndianCowboy said...

Argh, I really flinch about advocating that laypeople, and evolutionary biology students read 'The Selfish Gene'.

As Wilson, Mayr, and several others have vocally said the gene is NOT the Unit of Selection, that is the Individual, the combination of his or her genes and environment that make up their phenotype.

Selfish Gene is a bit *too* reductionist, as genes can only be indirectly selected for or against,and only in the context of the sum total of the phenotype.

Books I *do* like include:

In Search of Deep Time by Henry Gee. He's the editor of Nature, and it's a great view into how cladistics works, while being accessible to anyone at the high school level or greater.

The Triumph of Sociobiology by John Alcock - yeah, the author of the universally used Animal Behavior textbook. Again imminently accessible and a great defense of Sociobiology. Extremely necessary in these days of shouting down any sociobiological look into human behavior.

There's more, but i'll kill this now

At 7:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I am afraid I have an elementary question: did you not learn how to cite a source properly?
Just title and author is a bit poor, especially if one has to deal with older books...


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