Friday, September 17, 2010

Tom Chivers' Top Five Books on Evolution

 
Tom Chivers has posted a list of his top five books on evolutionary biology [Best evolutionary biology books, from Stephen Jay Gould to Richard Dawkins]. Here they are ...
  1. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989)
    Stephen Jay Gould
  2. The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (2004)
    Richard Dawkins
  3. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters (1999)
    Matt Ridley
  4. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (1995)
    Daniel Dennett
  5. The Blind Watchmaker (1986) Richard Dawkins
I agree with Wonderful Life but it's a little bit dated. I agree with The Blind Watchmaker—it's a must-read book for anyone interested in evolution. The Ancestor's Tale is okay but it doesn't make my list. Genome has nothing to do with evolution. Darwin's Dangerous Idea is just about the worst book on evolution that's ever been written. Dennet's version of evolution is conceptually flawed and his diatribes against Gould are simply a vehicle for demonstrating his (Dennet's) misconceptions about evolution.

Here's my list of the top five trade books ...
  1. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989) Stephen Jay Gould

  2. The Blind Watchmaker (1991 edition) Richard Dawkins

  3. Why Evolution Is True (2009) Jerry Coyne

  4. Reinventing Darwin: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory (1995) Niles Eldredge

  5. Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (1991) David M. Raup


11 comments :

  1. I'm going to have to get number 5. Thanks for posting this, Larry.

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  2. Glad to read this. I haven't read all of them, but am going to have non-majors read 'why evolution is true' for a Darwin/evolution class I'm going to teach next year.

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  3. I like this list, and would add "What Evolution Is", by Ernst Mayr. I read Mayr's book after reading Dennett's, and the only world that describes the sensation is WHIPLASH.

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  4. My top five:
    The Greatest Show On Earth( by Richard Dawkins)
    Why Evolution Is True( by Jerry Coyne)
    The Making Of The Fittest( by Sean.B Carrol)
    Your Inner Fish( by Neil Shubin)
    The Blind Watchmaker( by Richard Dawkins)

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  5. If I had to pick a Dawkins book to recommend, it would probably be The Ancestor's Tale. It's just covers such a wide range. Also given my limited understanding of evolution and reading books on it, I'd also pick Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True, Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is, and Sean Carroll's The Making Of The Fittest.

    I probably need to read more, got Elliot Sober's Evidence and evolution reserved at the local library, and Massimo Pigliucci & Jonathan Kaplan's Making Sense Of Evolution on my bookshelf.

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  6. Carl Zimmer's "on the water's edge" should be also on the list somewhere (although it's not about generic evolution, but just specific examples)

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  7. More great evolution books:

    Colin Tudge: The variety of life
    (currently reading that and it is great)

    Steven Stanley: Extinction
    Similar to Raup's I guess (which I haven't read), but it's a great book covering the history of life through the various extinctions.

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  8. I'm a big fan of Ancestor's Tale, personally. Wonderful Life? Not really. Gould has an annoying habit of pointing out the cultural and political motes in others' eyes when they look to the 'themes' of evolution, without any apparent appreciation of the irony.

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  9. Allan Miller says,

    Wonderful Life? Not really. Gould has an annoying habit of pointing out the cultural and political motes in others' eyes when they look to the 'themes' of evolution, without any apparent appreciation of the irony.

    I don't know what you mean by "irony." In Wonderful Life Gould says (p. 244),

    Most of us are not naive enough to believe the old myth that scientists are paragons of unprejudiced objectivity, equally open to all possibilities, and reaching conclusions only by the weight of evidence and logic of argument. We understand that biases, prejudices, social values, and psychological attitudes all play a strong role in the process of discovery.

    Gould has never pretended the he, himself, is immune to these biases and prejudices, even going so far as to point out that his father was a Marxist.

    I fail to see why that's ironical.

    Can you find any examples where Richard Dawkins has made a similar confession of potential bias?

    No? I didn't think so. Don't you find that ironical? :-)

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  10. Larry,

    My mentioning of Dawkins and Gould in the same comment was incidental - I wasn't touting one against the other. Both are great writers.

    But once one starts flinging accusations of a kind of cultural relativism around, no-one, including the proponent, is immune from the rather insulting implication that they are incapable of assessing a scientific position on its merits.

    Lyell was a uniformitarian because it fit with his liberal middle-class prejudices? Mebbe so, mebbe not. Who's Gould to decide?

    Did Eldredge and Gould only favour Punctuated Equilibrium because it fit with their left-leaning sympathies? I dunno.

    Did Conway Morris reject WL's conclusions because his religious sympathies demand an inevitability to human intelligence? (Actually, I might give you that one! ;0)

    From introspection, I would aver that my rather apathetic politics and unavoidable cultural background (everyone has to come from somewhere!) have no bearing on my position on this or that scientific proposition. But then I would say that, white middle-class English atheist that I am :0)

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  11. I have to agree with one of the previous comments.

    The best book on evolution in my opinion is

    Why Evolution Is True
    http://tinyurl.com/crsndq7

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