What books do you think all ecology grad students should read, if they’re going to become broadminded, thoughtful, well-informed ecologists?
This is a pretty high bar. There are lots of books I really admire and that have profoundly influenced my thinking as an ecologist that I would not argue that every ecologist should read. Just because those books worked for me doesn’t mean they’d work for everyone. And while every ecology grad student obviously needs to have sufficient general knowledge of ecology, there’s no one textbook I’d say everyone should read. In part because there are other ways to acquire the requisite knowledge besides reading a textbook.
My suggestions all have to do with getting up to speed on the history and current status of the field, while also hopefully encouraging students to think critically rather than seeing “classic” work as settled and unquestionable.* Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it and all that.
I’ve never read most of these, so one motivation for this post is to publicly embarrass myself into reading them!
Foundations of Ecology: Classic Papers with Commentaries is my #1 suggestion. Just what it sounds like: reprints of 40 classic papers, along with commentaries placing them in the context of their time and in the subsequent development of the field.
I’d also suggest reading a proper history of ecology, but I’m not sure if there’s one I’d pick over any other. Modeling Nature is a candidate, though with a focus on the population-y side of ecology. The Background of Ecology is another.
How about something that gives you a big-picture sense of how ecologists think, or more precisely the range of ways that they think? As a way of introducing you to the intellectual “culture” of the field. The Idea of Biodiversity might fit the bill; it comprises interviews with a bunch of prominent ecologists and conservation biologists (Jane Lubchenco, Peter Raven, Paul Ehrlich…) about the interplay of their science, their personal values, and their politics. (ht Mark Vellend, via the comments)
And how about something contrarian, philosophical, or outside the mainstream of ecological thought? Something that shakes you out of your “dogmatic slumbers“, challenges fundamental assumptions you didn’t even realize you were making, and so really gets you thinking? Which means it’s got to be sufficiently well-founded to be worth wrestling with; it can’t just be crazy or whatever. My own PhD supervisory committee had me read A Critique for Ecology and Method in Ecology. But both of those are kind of old. Maybe The Theory of Ecology?
I think everyone should read On the Origin of Species.
And of course, it goes without saying that all ecology grad students should read this blog. But I’ll say it anyway. 🙂
What books would you make every ecology grad student read?
*”Classic” doesn’t mean “correct”. Reading old papers is counterproductive to the extent that it exposes you to zombie ideas.