Doing some gift shopping for the ecologist or evolutionary biologist in your life? I’m here to help! Let’s come up with a list of great popular science books about ecology and evolution.
There are lots of great popular books about evolution. Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker. Jonathan Weiner’s The Beak of the Finch. Marek Kohn’s A Reason for Everything (which kind of straddles the line between popular science and biography). Probably lots of others I haven’t read. I want to read Microcosm by Carl Zimmer. And if you want to enjoy watching popular misconceptions about evolution get shot down, I hear that Marlene Zuk’s Paleofantasy is good.
I’m actually struggling to think of good popular treatments of ecology. I tend not to read popular science related to ecology. I tend to read popular science books on topics I know less about because I like learning new things; I already know a lot about ecology. Plus, most popular science about ecology is about conservation and climate change. I tend to go for popular science that’s more about ideas than applications. But maybe there’s stuff I’m missing? I hear The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen is good. It’s about island biogeography.
At the risk of hijacking my own thread, my favorite popular science books about other topics include Paul Hoffman’s The Man Who Loved Only Numbers (a biography, of legendary mathematician and eccentric Paul Erdös, rather than a popular science book, but far too great not to include), Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Enigma (about Andrew Wiles’ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem), and William Poundstone’s Fortune’s Formula. Fortune’s Formula is about the Kelly Criterion for maximizing expected returns on wagers or other uncertain investments. An amazing story that, without stretching, involves everyone from Claude Shannon to Mafia bosses. It has evolutionary implications too, relating to the evolution of “bet hedging”, which aren’t noted in the book. Plus, it’s by William Poundstone, and he’s always good value.
p.s. Before you name “Walden”, read this.
Footnote: this is a lightly edited version of a post that first appeared in 2012.