A book list for evolutionists


A while back, I presented a book list for evolutionists. Now I’ve updated it, adding a few recommendations and adding links so you can choose your favorite book vendor.

A few disclaimers: I do get kickbacks from affiliate programs when you purchase books after clicking through those links. If you’d rather not fund a perfidious atheist’s book addiction, just look up the titles at your preferred source—I don’t mind. This list is not a thinly-veiled attempt to get readers to buy me presents, either; I’ve read all these, so please don’t try to order them for me. Get them for a creationist instead, they need them more.

For the kids:

The Evolution Book (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Sara Stein. A fine book, but not for the lightweight science kid: this one tries to cover just about everything encyclopedically, so give it to the truly dedicated bookworm.

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Steve Jenkins. Another encyclopedic illustrated summary of evolutionary history for the younger set.

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). David Norman. Not really intended for kids, but packed with full-color illustrations and detailed descriptions of many dinosaur groups. My kids would spend hours leafing through this one; it’s the dinosaur book I wish I’d had as a 12 year old.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Lisa Westburg Peters. Excellent, simple summary of evolutionary history, for the K-3rd grade set.

The Tree of Life : Charles Darwin(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Peter Sis. Nice picture book biography of Darwin for the kids.

From the Beginning: The Story of Human Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). David Peters. An older book that may be hard to get, but worth it for the wall-to-wall drawings of the organisms scattered along the human lineage, from single-celled prokaryote to modern humans.

For the grown-up layman:

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Sean Carroll. A phenomenal book; if there’s one book you should pick up for an introduction to evo-devo, this is the one.

Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Matt Ridley. Orac says, “It’s a downright poetic look at each of the 23 chromosomes and what sorts of biological and disease processes genes from each of them are involved in, along with a nice dollop of evolution of the genome.”

Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Kenneth Miller. Danny Boy says, “A Christian debunks creationism and shows how evolution can be compatible with Christianity.”

Charles Darwin: Voyaging(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) and Charles Darwin : The Power of Place(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Janet Browne. This is the best biography of Darwin out there.

Science As a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). John A. Moore. This is part history book, part philosophy of science book; if you know someone who doesn’t understand the scientific method, this one will straighten him out.

The Darwin Wars(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Andrew Brown. Much as we aspire to the pure search for knowledge, scientists can be testy and political and vicious, too—this is a study of the sociology of evolutionary biology.

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Carl Zimmer. If you want a general survey of the history and ideas of evolutionary biology that isn’t written like a textbook, this is the one you want.

At the Water’s Edge: Fish With Fingers, Whales With Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Carl Zimmer. The focus in this one is on macroevolution of tetrapods and cetaceans. Excellently written, with a very thorough overview of the evidence.

Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard Fortey. Everything you need to know about the basics of trilobytes, with a chatty and often amusing introduction to the world of paleontologists.

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Jonathan Weiner. A Pulitzer-winning account of the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant in documenting the evolutionary changes occurring in Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos right now.

Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the evolution of bird flight(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Pat Shipman. Chris Clarke says, “an excellent and readable treatment of current thinking at printing on bird evolution and the evolution of that instance of powered flight.”

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard Dawkins. Mrs Tilton says, “both as a general explanation of evolution and as a particular refutation of what has come to be known as intelligent design.”

The Ancestor’s Tale : A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard Dawkins. A step-by-step account of human evolution, working backwards through time.

What Evolution Is(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Ernst Mayr. A survey of the theory by an opinionated master.

Evolutionary Biology(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Douglas J. Futuyma. If you don’t mind reading a textbook, this is one of the best and most popular texts on the subject.

An Introduction to Biological Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Kenneth Kardong. Another textbook, but less weighty and less expensive then Futuyma’s; a book I’d use in a freshman non-majors course.

For the more advanced/specialized reader:

From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals) (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Charles Darwin, Edward O. Wilson (Editor). I’ve read these books, but I don’t own this edition…so this is one I’ll be hinting to my wife might make a nice present. It collects the four in one volume, with introductions by Wilson, so if every you’ve wanted these seminal works for your bookshelf, here they are in an inexpensive edition.

On Growth and Form(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. I’m afraid no developmental biologist can list important books without mentioning this one.

From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Sean B. Carroll, Jennifer K. Grenier, Scott D. Weatherbee. Like it says…molecular genetics, evolution, developmental biology. A good textbook describing the new cutting edge of evolutionary biology.

Shaking the Tree : Readings from Nature in the History of Life(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Henry Gee. GirlScientist says, “This is a collection of scientific papers that were influential in the field for one reason or another.” (I don’t think she intended that her recommendation come out sounding so tepid.)

Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). David M. Raup. A little statistics, a lot of paleontology, a good introduction to how we try to puzzle out what the world was like from a sparse data set.

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Stephen J. Gould. Massive. Indulgently written. But full of interesting ideas.

Developmental Plasticity and Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Mary Jane West-Eberhard. Also massive. If you’re already comfortable with the conventional perspective on evolutionary theory, though, this one twists it around and comes at it from the point of view of a developmental biologist.

Biased Embryos and Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Wallace Arthur. A slim and readable book about evo-devo.

The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard Lewontin. A slender book that lucidly summarizes the non-reductionist position on modern biology; it’s a call for greater breadth in science.

The Shape of Life : Genes, Development, and the Evolution of Animal Form(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Rudy Raff. Hardcore evo-devo. A little out of date, but very influential.

For the anti-creationist:

Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Barbara Carroll Forrest, Paul R. Gross. The best summary of the sneaky political strategy of the creationists of the Discovery Institute.

Unintelligent Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Mark Perakh. Nice, blunt dissection of the pseudo-science of creationism.

Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Matt Young, Taner Edis, eds. A team-takedown of Intelligent Design’s bad science.

Republican War on Science(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Chris Mooney. Here’s my review; all you need to know about the current political attack on science.

The Counter-Creationism Handbook(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Mark Isaak. Here’s a brief review, but it’s enough to say that this is an indispensable tool for dismissing creationist arguments.

The Triumph of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Niles Eldredge. Chris Clarke says, “useful and inspiring, both as a survey of evolutionary thought and a clarion call against creationism.”

Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Massimo Pigliucci. Michael Feldgarden says, “It definitely falls into the category of “anti-creationist” and “specialized reader.” I don’t know if it’s a little too complex for the lay reader (I don’t think so). It’s an excellent and well-written rebuttal of creationism and definition of science and the scientific method as it relates to evolutionary biology.”

The Creationists(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Ronald Numbers. Sean Foley says, “For an overview of the growth and role of the creationist movement in America.”

Defending Evolution : A guide to the creation/evolution controversy (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Brian J. Alters, Sandra Alters. An excellent guidebook on how to handle creationism in the classroom, specifically for biology teachers.

I’ll also add that Coturnix has a book list, too, and if you want a more specialized list, Mike has a list of books just for birders.

Just in case your favorite evolutionist has already read everything in the list, here’s another possibility: bones! Here are a couple of sources of bones, fossils, and casts:

These kinds of lists can go on forever. Please do mention any other possibilities in the comments, and maybe they’ll make it into the next edition.


Have you seen the marvelous essay by Niles Eldridge?


that was a bit of work, Pim!

thanks for the effort; i saved it in my files for future reference.



ack! you’re right. *red*

only have a lack of coffee to blame.

http://www.antievolution.org/cgi-bi[…];f=14;t=1300 Posted: Feb. 15 2006,13:26

?? Coincidence?? Why is your time stamp so far off from mine. I posted that thread at 12:26 pst? Notice How you never see me and pz in the same place :)

Charles Darwin: Voyaging I haven’t read all his biographies so I don’t know if it is the best but it’s darn good. I give it 4 out of five stars. Maybe 4 1/2.

Minor complaint: I don’t like the term “evolutionist” much more than I do “Darwinist” for somebody who simply accepts the conclusions of science. While I believe it’s a term inevitably used during battles over ID/creationism as shorthand for those who really do care about science, versus those who merely claim to use scientific methods, I don’t think I’d use the term “evolutionist” in making up a book list for “our side”. We’re not adherents to any kind of “-ism”, ideology, or theology. “Creationism” or “IDCism” makes sense for YECs and IDists, since they refuse to agree with scientific conclusions in this one area, but we’re only being consistent across the range of science.

“An evolution book list,” or “List of books related to evolution,” might be adequate. It’s primarily for anyone who cares about basing conclusions on the evidence, though a few are directed at the “evolutionist” side of the science battles.

Well, like a said, it’s only a minor complaint, and now I’ve said my piece. Likely I’m done with the matter for some time now, and it is up to PZ and others to decide where they will use the label “evolutionist”.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

“evolutionist” is no more objectionable than “biologist” or “scientist”.

“evolutionist” is no more objectionable than “biologist” or “scientist”.

Are you a relativist? A gravitationist? A heliocentrist (with regard to the solar system, that is)? While one might in certain contexts claim to be a heliocentrist in particular, it would not be a normal label one would use to describe one’s acceptance of the scientific method within astronomy.

If one would not typically use the terms listed above, why would you be an “evolutionist”? Why is “evolutionist” something that should be said about someone who simply accepts the conclusions of science, when one is not normally called a “relativist” or “quantum mechanist” or some such thing?

Why not “Darwinist”, if “evolutionist” is supposed to be used to merely note the fact that one is not anti-science in the field of biology? At least “Darwinist” sets one off from believers in other “evolutionary scenarios”, like versions of ID, Lamarckism, and pan-psychic notions about evolution.

Beyond that, why would you think that bald assertion is an appropriate response to a reasoned post? Obviously I’m concerned about the labeling that IDists like to use, while your response deals with nothing at all except a meaningless comparison of “evolutionist” with “biologist” and “scientist”.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Wow, thanks for the list. But why only one SJ Gould Book? Oh well, I have half of his books anyway. :p

Dan brings up a good point. Several of the authors on the list have numerous books on the subject.

Obviously, PZ is going for coverage of the field, and I saw several books on the list I’ll have to check out. But, for those who might be interested in some of the more prolific authors’ other output, I’ll compile a short list:

S.J.Gould wrote a column in Natural History for many years, and compiled his essays into book format quite frequently. Ever Since Darwin was the first such effort, I believe, and was followed by (not comprehensive, and in no particular order): The Panda’s Thumb(!) Bully for Brontosaurus, Dinosaur in a Haystack. There are on the order of ten such collections, all good reading in essay format. Some of his other books include Full House, one of my favorites, which manages to be entertaining about both baseball (Gould’s other obsession) and the diversity of life; and The Mismeasure of Man, about eugenics and the origins of IQ testing in the early 20th century.

Richard Dawkins’s other books include The Selfish Gene, Climbing Mount Improbable, The Extended Phenotype, and recently The Ancestor’s Tale, which is big but worth it, and should be out in paperback soon.

Also by Matt Ridley, The Red Queen, all about the evolution of sex, and, recently (actually haven’t read this one) The Agile Gene

Good list, PZ.

Abiogenesis Iris Fry, 2000 “The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview” Rutgers University Press

* A bit dated. Eg. There is no question that the early Earth’s atmosphere and oceans were reducing.

High School educated:

Burnie, Davin 1999 “Get a Grip on Evolution” London: The Ivy Press

**Breezy, fun read. Lots of historical details as well as science.

Books to send to creationists:

Towne, Margaret Gray 2003 “Honest to Genesis: A Biblical & Scientific Challenge to Creationism” Baltimore: PublishAmerica”

**Former student of paleontologist Jack Horner and seminarian.

Stephen J. Godfrey, Christopher R. Smith 2005 “Paradigms on Pligrimadge: Creationism, Paleontology, and biblical interpretation.” Toronto: Clements Publishing

**One time YEC fundies. Today: one paleontologist and one a Baptist minister.

Spong, John Shelby 1992 “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism” New York: HarperCollins

** Retired Bishop with the resulting strenghts and weaknesses.

I think your kind of forgetting..

Telling Lies for God: Reason Vs. Creationism by Ian R. Plimer, Professor of Geology at The University of Melbourne, who bravely stood up against creationists and expose their dark side despite attempts made by creationists to silence him.

I also enjoyed Richard Fortey’s Life. It’s a bit more broad than Trilobite, but where Trilobite discusses very specific evolutionary mechanisms and events, Life gives an excellent “big picture” that ties together the larger-scale evolutionary themes in a historical narrative.

Having a larger historical narrative is also good because Fortey has a tendency towards digressions and side-stories. With a larger frame to keep this in check, his writing skills really shine through. Just as in Trilobite, he manages to bring ancient worlds to life and describes long-extinct creatures as if they were swimming around in a tank right next to him.

Just two questions –

(1) Where are the anti-evolution and/or anti-Darwinism books to give the list balance ?

(2) If there is no controversy, then why do we have all these books about the controversy?

Just two questions- (1) Who does Larry Fafarman think he’s fooling by posting under unimaginative pseudonyms like “Andy H.” and now “Bill Keely”?

(2) Why is Larry so sure that his lame arguments have no support outside his own small mind that he has to invent multiple personae to make it seem like they do?

CJ: “The Ancestor’s Tale” is already out in paperback. I have it on my shelf. You also forgot “Unweaving the Rainbow” and “River Out of Eden”, which weren’t bad, although he repeated a lot of stuff from his earlier books and “Unweaving the Rainbow” kind of lost its train of thought near the end.

I am also totally seconding Hyperion’s recommendation for Richard Fortey’s “Life”. I checked that book out from the library about three times in a row once. It rocks.

As a biologist (“evolutionist”) who is also an evangelical Christian, I have also been recommending “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation”, a series of science and theology essays edited by Dr. Keith Miller, geologist, Kansas State Univ.

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Great list,but you’ve left out E.O. Wilson (except as an editor of Darwin’s books) “The diversity of life” is an extraordinary description of the evolved planet, while “Consilience”, though not a book explicitly concerned with evolution but rather a philosophical treatise on the unity of knowledge contains the following lovely paragraph: “The brain is a helmet-shaped mass of grey and white tissue about the size of a grapefruit, one to two quarts in volume, and on average weighing three pounds (Einstein’s brain, for example, was 2.75 pounds). Its surface is wrinkled like that of a cleaning sponge, and its consistency is custardlike, firm enough to keep from puddling on the floor of the brain case, soft enough to be scooped out with a spoon.” Think of that (with that!). He writes beautifully and any list of great books on science and nature is incomplete without his among them.


Is anyone else’s books to read list growing faster than they can read them?

In any case, my website has oodles of book links if people need more. :)

I guess I should get around to reading that Endless Forms Most Beautiful that everyone is talking about, though.

Maybe you could add “On the Origin of Species…” by Darwin. I didn’t see it in the list(!) And also, for the advanced reader: “Evolution” by Marc Ridley and “Speciation” by Coyn & Orr.


> Telling Lies for God: Reason Vs. Creationism by Ian R. Plimer, Professor of Geology at The University of Melbourne, who bravely stood up against creationists and expose their dark side despite attempts made by creationists to silence him.

Why do you suggest reading this trash?



“The Ancestor’s Tale : A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard Dawkins. A step-by-step account of human evolution, working backwards through time.”

This description doesn’t really do it justice. It’s far more than just an account of human evolution. It uses to the journey back in time to cover a vast array of evolutionary subjects in an accessible form, ending with the origins of life itself. One of the best books on evolution I have ever read, spoilt only by the occasional Dawkins rant about subjects that personally vex him.

If one would not typically use the terms listed above, why would you be an “evolutionist”?

That’s a bit like asking why more than one man aren’t called mans. I would be an “evolutionist” because the term applies to me, regardless of whether one would typically use other terms.

Why is “evolutionist” something that should be said about someone who simply accepts the conclusions of science, when one is not normally called a “relativist” or “quantum mechanist” or some such thing?

Because it says something more specific than that the person accepts the conclusions of science, and because relativity theory and quantum mechanics aren’t in dispute and so we don’t need specific terms to identify those who accept them. But we did in fact at one time use such terms as “Big Bang theorist” and “Steady State theorist”, which could have been abbreviated as “Big Bangist” and “Steady Statist”. And we use such terms as panadaptationist and cladist. To simply claim that such people do or do not accept the conclusions of science is to beg the question. It is wise to keep in mind that the conclusions of science are extensive, dynamic, and tentative; therefore, there is no one who “simply accepts the conclusions of science”. We can, however, safely conclude the factuality of evolution and the correctness of the core of the theory of evolution.

Why not “Darwinist”, if “evolutionist” is supposed to be used to merely note the fact that one is not anti-science in the field of biology?

Who, other than you, said that that’s all “evolutionist” indicates? But I have no problem with Darwinist, nor do many others, like Dawkins.

Why do you suggest reading this trash?

Perhaps because Jeffrey Shallit, in the review you cite, writes “Plimer’s discussion of creationism in Australia is a welcome contribution to the literature.”

I recommend Robert Pennock’s Tower of Babel–The Evidence Against the New Creationists

What about Edward J. Larson’s Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory? I listened to it on CD and found it very interesting. The book puts evolutionary theory in historical context. Since it is more of a “history of science” book than a “science book” it doesn’t go into hard and heavy detail about evolution itself, but more along the lines of how the concept was formed, what other ideas were formed before and during Darwin’s time, how the idea of evolution has been debated, and how and why it has become accepted overwhelmingly by scientists. I have not read Larson’s Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion but that might be another one to add to the list. I received Dawkin’s Ancestor’s Tales and David Grimaldi and Michael S. Engel’s Evolution of the insects (!) for Christmas but haven’t attempted them yet. Are there books I should read before these? I have a degree in biology, but was unfortunately not able to take a class on evolution while in college. I’m really fascinated with it though. I guess my question is, if there is a starting book or two you would recommend, what would it be?

> Perhaps because Jeffrey Shallit, in the review you cite, writes “Plimer’s discussion of creationism in Australia is a welcome contribution to the literature.”

Helloooo! Earth to Moonbat! Earth to Moonbat!

This in no way justifies the inclusion of this trash in a list of quality evolutionist books. And Shallit continues:

“But Plimer seems to believe that the battle against creationism is a gutter fight. He correctly observes that many creationists are dishonest (taking quotes out of context, fabricating evidence, ad hominem attacks, etc.), but has indulged in some of the same tactics himself [1]. Plimer thinks the battle against creationism cannot be won by rational debate.”

Methinks, you’re nothing but a creationist plant.

But Plimer seems to believe that the battle against creationism is a gutter fight.

And he’s right.

Plimer thinks the battle against creationism cannot be won by rational debate.

Once again, he is right.

This is a political fight. It’s not a scientific symposium. And politics is a business full of knives.

So it’s OK to include his dishonest trash into the list of evolutionist books, because it is a gutter fight, so we must descend to evolution deniers’ level. OK, got it.

Emergence - by steven Johnson Not exactly evolution of life but really, really good.

How about “Science of Discworld 3: Darwin’s Watch” by Pratchett, Stewart, and Cohen? :)

Methinks, you’re nothing but a creationist plant.

Methinks you’re an idiot and a troll.

No one has mentioned “Abusing Science” The case against creationism by Philip Kitcher. Excellent, and very easy to read, even for the layman.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on February 15, 2006 3:39 PM.

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