Posted by: Dan | February 19, 2009

Required Reading for Biology Majors

Note: Rethinking it, perhaps I should have titled this post as “recommended science reading for non-biology majors.” Oh well.

A few days ago, Grrlscientist blogged on an interesting meme:

Imagine: YOU are asked to assign a half-dozen-or-so books as required reading for ALL science majors at a college as part of their 4-year degree; NOT technical or text books, but other works, old or new, touching upon the nature of science, philosophy, thought, or methodology in a way that a practicing scientist might gain from.

Post your list, and forward the meme to a half-dozen-or-so other science-oriented bloggers of your choosing.

A very good meme indeed. I wasn’t tagged, but I’ll jump in and offer my own suggestions, and naturally I’m biased towards biology. Here they are, below the fold…

The Ascent of Man, by Jacob Bronowski. Originally co-produced by BBC/Time-Life as a series of documentaries/lectures, this narrative peels back layers of history, invention, and science to investigate the ‘great paradox of the human species’. Ascent could easily be renamed “A History of Modern Knowledge.”

On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Alternatively, The Voyage of the Beagle is outstanding as well. The first is essentially “one long argument” as Ernst Mayr put it, while the second provides insight into the observational mind that was Darwin’s. His argument and how he came to it provide a vital foundation for understanding biology.

A selection from either Mayr, Dobzhansky, or Fisher. Or all of them. These contributors to the “Modern Evolutionary Synthesis” provide refinement to Darwin’s foundational Origin.

What is Life?, by Erwin Schrödinger. A fresh perspective on biology from one of the great theoretical physicists to make you think about life on the molecular scale. It certainly made Francis Crick think, and turned the attention of a generation of physicists towards biology to boot.

Life As It Is, by William Loomis. Subtitled “Biology for the Public Sphere”, this book is sure to spark debate with laypersons, but offers the biologists’ perspectives on abortion, euthanasia, engineered evolution, cooperativity, and the future of sustainable life on this planet.

The Future of Life, by Edward O. Wilson. The old head-to-head between the economists and the environmentalists is giving way to a more sophisticated, constructive debate. This book takes a hard but optimistic look at our prospects to manage biological diversity and ecosystem services in a crowded world.



  1. I think the books above are an excellent selection for the year of Darwin

    I’d like to suggest an additional one –
    The Future of Life: Meta-Evolution- A Unified Theory of Evolution
    available on Amazon and Google Reader as well as a rough copy on the website below

    As the author I may be a little biased towards its inclusion on your list. However as offering the first generic Unified Theory of Evolution, beyond biology, I think it may qualify as a worthy 21st century
    extension of Darwinism

    Best wishes and thankyou for the opportunity to contribute to your excellent blog.
    David Hunter Tow


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