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Books for Biology Majors

Recommended Reading

The following titles, listed alphabetically by author, represent a collection of works that have had a significant impact on the life sciences, provide useful insights for professional biologists, or are merely informative or fun. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but merely reflects the backgrounds and biases of the Avila biology faculty. We encourage biologists-in-training to explore some or all of these volumes as they advance in their education.

Darwin, Charles. 1839. Voyage of the Beagle.
In many ways, this is the most insightful of Darwin's many works (serious students should read many, if not all of the others).  Especially with an awareness of what Darwin was to accomplish later in life, this fascinating book provides insights into who Darwin was and into the world in which he lived.  Many editions are available, a particularly nicely abridged edition is available in paperback as a Penguin Classic by Penguin Books (1989).

Dawkins, R. 1986. The Blind Watchmaker.
Presents an entertaining and up-to-date discussion of several factors involved in evolution by natural selection. W.W. Norton & Co. publishes this book in paperback.

Judson, H.F. 1979. The Eighth Day of Creation.
This book continues to be the definitive historical review of the research that shed light on the mechanisms of heredity. It contains background from interviews with actual participants over the course of the last century. It is published by Simon and Schuster.

Keller, Evelyn Fox. 1983. A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock
An account of the struggles and triumphs of one of the best known geneticists this century. The book is short, but with enough depth to provide the reader with an appreciation for McClintock's work.   Freeman publishes this in paperback.

Leopold, Aldo. 1987. A Sand County Almanac.
First published in 1949, it combines a wonderfully written account of the author's observations of nature with thoughts and opinions about human's relationship with their environment. The book is available in paperback from Oxford University Press.

Leroi, Armand M. 2003.  Mutants.
An examination of the effects of dramatic mutations on the human organism throughout history. This book relates historic anecdotes with modern developments in human genetics. It is highly readable and is published by Penguin Books.

Lorenz, Konrad Z. 1952. King Solomon's Ring: New Light on Animal Ways
A delightfully readable classic in what was then the embryonic discipline of animal behavior.  Although some of the work seems antiquated by modern standards, the insights are timeless.  The original translation from German may still be available in either hard- or paperback by Thomas Y. Crowell Co.

MacArthur, Robert H., and Edward O. Wilson. 1967. The Theory of Island Biogeography.
A classic product of a collaboration between an ecologist and a systematist, this little book established island biogeography as a serious discipline in its own right. A paperback edition by the Princeton University Press should still be available.

Margulis, Lynn, and Michael F. Dolan. 2002. Early Life: Evolution on the PreCambrian Earth. 2nd edition.
An overview of early life with a presentation of the endosymbiotic hypothesis for the origins of eukaryotic cells. Published by Jones and Bartlett, the book is quite expensive, but used copies are readily available at a reasonable price.

Mayr, Ernst. 1963. Animal Species and Evolution.
If a historical perspective is ever of any value, this is a book every evolutionary biologist should read.  Although Mayr's perspectives are limited by the information available to him at the time, and his views have been superseded by many more recent advances in the field, this summary of what was then known is invaluable. Originally published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, other editions may be more available.

Mayr, Ernst. 1982. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance.
A  must-read history of biology from antiquity to the present. Published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Moore, J.A. 1993. Science as a Way of Knowing-The Foundations of Modern Biology.
A well-written discussion of evolution and modern biology.  The book is published by Harvard University Press.

Quammen, David. 1996. The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions.
A series of essays by an unusually perceptive amateur naturalist provide insights into issues of biodiversity in a readable manner seldom encountered in the more technical literature. A hardback is available from the Scribner publishing company.

Sayre, Anne. 1978. Rosalind Franklin and DNA.
This book should be read immediately following Watson's The Double Helix. It gives a more multi-dimensional portrayal of a scientist who made substantial contributions to the greatest biological discovery of the century: the structure of DNA. The book is published in paperback by W.W. Norton & Co. 

Tinbergen, Niko. 1951. The Herring Gull's World, A Study of the Social Behavior of Birds.
This is a classic study of animal behavior. Bird lovers will be fascinated and every biologist will be interested. Originally published in 1960, a 1971 paperback reprint by Harper and Row may still be available.

Watson, James D. 1968. The Double Helix:  A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA.
An unusually insightful glimpse into the scientific process, albeit from a highly biased participant.  A particularly interesting edition, with the original text, commentaries, reviews, and transcripts of the pertinent original publications, is available in paperback as a Norton Critical Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1980).

Weiner, Jonathan.  1995.  The Beak of the Finch.
An account of Peter and Rosemary Grant's 20 year research program on finches in the Galapagos islands.  The Grants' work is related to Darwin's observations of these birds and their selection. It is a terrific account of evolution in action.  This is published by Vintage.

Weiner, Jonathan.  2000.  Time, Love Memory.
This is a fascinating account of the life and work of geneticist Seymour Benzer. Weiner has the ability to explain challenging concepts to the lay person and weaves revelations of the work of this extraordinary individual.  Available form Vintage Publishers.

Wilson, Edward O. 1992. The Diversity of Life.
An essay on the resilience of life, the state of biodiversity, and the impact of human activities.  Originally published by Harvard University Press, a paperback volume is available from W.W. Norton & Co.

Wilson, Edward O. 1995. Naturalist.
A fascinating autobiography of one of the great naturalists of the century. Tracing his early boyhood interest in biology to the present, Wilson gives insights into many of the guiding principles of modern biology. The book is available in paperback by Warner Books.

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