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The Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program
- Recommended Books
Looking for some reading material?
On this page is a list of popular books that are:
- about or strongly related to human evolution
- written for an adult audience
- published within the last 10 years
- recommended by a Human Origins Program staff member, research associate, or research collaborator, or a Hall of Human Origins exhibit volunteer
Each book recommendation includes a short personalized review by the person who recommends it.
This page will be updated approximately once per year, and the books are listed in order of publication date beginning with the most recent.
(Looking for books and resources on evolution for kids ages 4-14? Check out this curated list by children’s book author Elizabeth Shreeve and our own scientist and educator Briana Pobiner !)
Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind
Kermit Pattison's book focuses on the career of Tim White and the discovery and analysis of 'Ardi'. But in doing so he provides an excellent introduction to paleoanthropology, and to the many branches of science that provide the context for early hominins. A rare combination of 'page-turner' and fine introductory text-book. - Bernard Wood, Human Origins Program Research Associate
The World Before Us: How Science is Revealing a New Story of Our Human Origins
This is an extraordinary book which beautifully illustrates the scientific work behind the reconstruction of our evolutionary story. In this fascinating first-person account, Higham reveals new details about our species’ global expansion, captivating us with novel insights about who we met and mixed with along the way. - Michael Petraglia, Human Origins Program Research Associate
A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent of Man Got Right and Wrong Ab…
One hundred and fifty years after the publication of the first edition of The Descent of Man, Jeremy DeSilva has assembled a series of essays providing updated evidence that would have been available to Darwin if he was writing today. A few are also ‘report cards’ on some of Darwin’s most controversial interpretations and proposals. It is worth buying the book for the final two-page section of Agustín Fuentes’ chapter, entitled ‘Was Darwin Racist?’ - Bernard Wood, Human Origins Program Research Associate
Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art
Looking to learn about Neanderthals as makers of objects, I found this book has rich context to counter our many misunderstandings. The scope of Neanderthal adaptation to climate and geography, the range of foods enjoyed, vivid documentation about skills and intent as makers of objects, and indications of community and imagination satisfy as evidence of their humanity in life. Informative, clear about conjecture, it is a very engaging narrative. - Lynn Sures, Human Origins Program Research Associate
The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past
I consider this a must-read book for students interested in human evolution -- it is just the right combination of personal and scientific discovery, with enough detail about the fossils (and their importance) to satisfy even hardcore fossil nerds. Meave Leakey's polite British voice reads throughout the pages to explain how she got here, and how we got here as well. - Ashley Hammond, Human Origins Program Research Associate
Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Pa…
The study of ancient human DNA has flowered with the development of complex analytical methods, both in the biological laboratory sciences and in the statistical/data analysis realm. These have provided an abundance of surprising information about how the global pattern of human populations that exists today has developed, with clues to episodic migrations and population replacements as well as commingling of communities over the last 12,000 years or so. However, these stories are not without challenge, both because the analytical methods are still rapidly developing and because the implications of the stories can be contrary to previously held beliefs. David Reich is eminently qualified to discuss both the promise and the limitations of this field of paleoanthropology. - Jurate Landwehr, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
Evolution: The Human Story
In “Evolution” Roberts provides a concise, but highly informative overview of the history of humanity. She begins with short overviews of geology, paleontology, evolution, and fossil reconstruction. She then summarizes each known hominin from Sahelanthropus all the way to modern humans. She finishes with a short discussion of the earliest human civilizations. This very readable and highly graphic book will appeal to everyone from the person who knows little about science, but is curious to a knowledgeable amateur scientist. - Mike Reid, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction (Second Edition)
I have taught with, recommended, and referred back to this little book for years. Few others ‘punch above their weight’ as much as this one does. The writing is light, it’s packed with thoughtful observations, and Gosden manages to convey at once both the broad sweep of the deep history of our species but also thoughtful considerations about how we actually work to perceive the past. Highly recommended. - Christian Tryon, Human Origins Program Research Associate
Our Human Story: Where We Come From and How We Evolved
This well written and well illustrated book by Louise-Humphrey and Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum of London is a good introduction to the fossil evidence for what is known about the evolution of the Hominin clade, going back 7 Million years. It is a useful alternative to the alas out-of-print (published 2010) volume by Rick Potts and Chris Sloan “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” - Jurate Landwehr, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional
This is my go-to recommendation whenever I get asked to suggest a book that includes a general overview of human evolution. Somehow Fuentes manages to include an amazing amount of detail and information about our evolutionary history in this book, from the Stone Age to today, while still writing a compelling and understandable narrative focused on the creativity of ancient humans. - Briana Pobiner, Human Origins Program staff member
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes
As one of the pioneers of the use of ancient DNA to understand human evolution, Pääbo weaves personal anecdotes together with scientific information into a narrative about the technological pitfalls and scientific promise of ancient DNA, Neanderthals, and paleoanthropology in general. An enjoyable read. - Briana Pobiner, Human Origins Program staff member
Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Orig…
John Gurche, the author, takes us through the major milestones of the past 7 million years, from Sahelanthropus tchadensis to us. His artwork allows us to see and understand the physical developments of our distantly remote cousins. - David Wrausmann, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins
Tattersall is former curator of Anthropology at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. He's one of the best human origins writers out there, and is exceptional at formulating a cogent narrative. He moves through the fossil record effortlessly and really gets to the essence of how we came to be the Masters of the Planet. - Ben Gorton, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
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5 of the best books on human evolution
- Dr Brenna Hassett
Dr Brenna Hassett shares insight from her new book, Growing Up Human , and recommends five of her favourite books for further reading.
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Humans are, undoubtedly, an absolutely weird and unlikely species. But what makes them that way? In my latest book, Growing Up Human (£17.99, Bloomsbury) , I explore a critical aspect of human evolution that all of us have experienced but somehow never makes the headlines – even though it may be the very thing that makes us the single most successful primate on the planet.
In the book, I look at the evolutionary science behind human childhood and our unique adaptation in drawing childhood out for a lot, lot longer than other animals. I explore where we fit in the primate system of finding a mate, our unimpressive attempts at making babies, the evolution of our difficult, dangerous births and why we make milk like a zebra. What we do with these amazing, strange childhoods, is the result of the critical choices our species has made down the line; all to give ourselves a shot at being forever young.
This book comes from both a career spent looking at the bones and teeth of humans and our relatives to understand the evolutionary history of growth and development. However, it also comes from a much more personal place, as I was expecting a child of my own and realised exactly how many questions about this fundamental part of the human experience were still unanswered.
Why are human pregnancies so dangerous? Why are we (and whales) the only species to have grandmas? What should teenagers be doing all day? And of course, most critically of all, what are we planning on doing with all this extra time?
There are so many books on human evolution out there with a ‘just-so’ explanation for how we humans ended up the way we have, that I want to share in this little list the books that opened up new questions instead; ones that tell us about how we study the human past as well as giving us inspiration for how to do it better in the future.
All of the best scientific research, after all, starts with inspiration, and these are some of the books that inspired me to take my own shot at understanding our world.
If you fancy browsing more great science reads, check out this list of the best science books to fuel your curiosity.
5 best books on human evolution
Evolution's bite: a story of teeth, diet, and human origins, peter ungar.
- Buy now from Amazon ( £16.76 ).
My specialist subject is teeth – how they grow, and what we do with them. Prof Peter Ungar has been incredibly influential in this field for decades and has led some of the pioneering research into what has gone on in our mouths in the last few million years that perhaps doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
While the hominid story of walking upright seems firmly fixed in our collective imagination, there is a whole world of evolutionary importance locked down in fossil teeth. Ungar explains how teeth reflect what we eat, and how our teeth have changed as the various species that came before us changed diets, environments, and lifestyles.
While Ungar is an undoubted expert and the book is full of important points about evolution, what I enjoyed most about were the insights from a researcher who has been in the field for a long time, and the first-hand accounts of some of my science’s most exciting discoveries.
- You're probably brushing your teeth wrong – here's what you should be doing
Our Human Story
Louise humphrey and chris stringer.
- Buy now from Amazon ( £27.32 ).
This book is close to my heart for two reasons. For one thing, it is an incredibly up-to-date precis of everything our species – and all the ones that came before us – were up to. It’s readable without skimping on detail, and is now my handy go-to for the expansive overview of human evolution.
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Of course, I also had the benefit of sitting around the coffee table with both authors when I worked at the Natural History Museum, London. This means that for me, this book captures in print form some of the best aspects of that job: the opportunity to be in the room where people who know evolutionary anthropology are talking about the latest developments in research.
- Are humans still evolving?
The Tales Teeth Tell: Development, Evolution, Behavior
- Buy now from Amazon ( £18.55 ).
It is my mission in life to help spread the word that teeth are one of the most exciting – and undervalued – subjects to research. Prof Tanya Smith has written this book with, I think, exactly that same mission in mind.
If you want to know how teeth can be on the cutting (biting?) edge of science, this is definitely the book for you. Smith has done incredible work bringing new imaging technologies to bear on ancient teeth, taking Neanderthals into a synchrotron and coming out with a day-by-day account of growing up.
While the book explores how we can use stable isotopes and synchrotrons to recover the stories of ancient lives, one of the most appealing things about it is the openness with which Smith shares her own journey through the wonder of teeth, something sure to resonate with anyone who has fallen head over heels for science.
Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art
Rebecca wragg sykes.
There are many ways to tell the story of our hominid past, but none are quite so lyrical as this book by Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes on our last relatives, the Neanderthals.
The best books on human evolution rewrite the tired old tropes of yesteryear, and this book not only rewrites them but sets out such a dense and poetic vision of life for our European hominid cousins that you can practically taste the bitter yarrow they ate.
Far from being the troglodytes of Victorian imagination, Wragg Sykes introduces an entirely new kind of human – one that cares, imagines, and creates .
- Listen to the Instant Genius Podcast: The Neanderthals, with Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes
Palaeofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live
I have to include this wonderful book by Professor Marlene Zuk because it is such a refreshing antidote to the shallow understanding of human evolution that worms its way into popular culture.
Zuk dismisses the mythical ideas of a perfect ‘Palaeo’ life and exposes the faddish diets, workouts, and dating advice that people have marketed while trying to sell the idea that there is some perfect ‘evolutionarily adapted’ way to be human.
There is nothing more frustrating for an anthropologist than the idea that humans are ‘evolved’ to do anything at all when it is so clear that the only way species survive is through adaptation and change. Taking down the protein gurus and nonsense love life advice with humour and fact, this is a wonderful book for anyone who has ever had a suspicion that maybe ‘palaeo’ life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
- 9 ways your childhood was weird
- Viruses: their extraordinary role in shaping human evolution
- The unlikely evolutionary origin of the human voice
Brenna is a biological anthropologist based at University College London who researches the hidden histories of human lives using clues from bones and teeth. While her 'proper' research as an academic tends to involve intense laboratory work with very very small structures in teeth, her archaeological experience has taken her to a variety of interesting places. She's been menaced by goats while walking very straight lines on an island in Greece that is four hours from anywhere, she's had interesting amoebic conditions relating to the quantity of camel urine present in the sand around burials she was digging next to the Pyramids at Giza, and been attacked by fire ants in a banana grove in Thailand. She writes on the subjects that fascinate anyone interested in human beings: why we are how we are, how we got here, and whether large parts of human evolution were even a good idea in the first place.
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Nature » Evolution
Most recommended books.
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin & James Costa
“An educated person is someone who knows at least a little bit about the major disciplines in human endeavour. And in biology, this is what you need to know – not only historically but also contemporaneously, because Darwin was right, and still is right, about so many things.” Jerry Coyne , Biologist
The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition by Michael Tomasello
“He is interested in something he calls the ‘ratchet’ effect. This is something we only see in humans.” Joseph Henrich ,
Browse book recommendations:
- Nature Writing
- Rocks & Minerals
- The Solar System & Space
We have a wide range of interviews on Evolution and related issues. Jerry Coyne, professor of evolutionary biology at Chicago University, chooses his best books on the subject . First up, unsurprisingly, is On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin . He also chooses a biography of the great man, Charles Darwin Voyaging by Janet Browne . Other choices are The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould and Evolution: What the Fossils say and Why it Matters by Donald Prothero.
John Henrich looks at cultural evolution and selects, among others The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition by Michael Tomasello and The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the State for Monarchy, Slavery and Empire by Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery. Paul Seabright discusses Evolution and Human Cooperation . Among his choices are A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and its Evolution by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis and Hierarchy in the Forest: the Evolution of Egalitarian Behaviour by Christopher Boehm. Helen Guldburg looks at Man and Ape , also choosing The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition by Michael Tomasello, as well as The Prehistory of the Mind: the Cognitive Origins of Art and Science by Stephen Mithen, and The Cradle of Thought: Exploring the Origins of Thinking by Peter Hobson.
Sean B Carroll chooses his best biology books . Carl Zimmer, blogger and author, discusses the strangeness of life and Paul Falkowski, professor of business and natural resources at Rutgers University chooses his best books on microbes .
Tim White looks at pre-history , Adam Maloof at Earth history , while Beth Shapiro discusses extinction and de-extinction . Caspar Henderson chooses his best books for growing up in the Athropocene .
The best books on Evolution , recommended by Jerry Coyne
Charles Darwin: Voyaging by Janet Browne
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould
Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters by Donald Prothero
Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tells us why Darwin is still essential reading and sifts the vast amount of more recent writing on evolution for books that are both inspiring to scientists and accessible to general readers. He picks the best books on evolution.
The best books on Cultural Evolution , recommended by Joseph Henrich
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution by Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire by Joyce Marcus & Kent Flannery
What role did culture play in human evolution? Why did human brains get so big so quickly? When and why did inequality first emerge in human society? Harvard professor and author Joe Henrich picks some of the best books for understanding ‘cultural evolution.’
The Best Biology Books , recommended by Sean B Carroll
The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology by Horace Freeland Judson
Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist by Adrian Desmond & James Moore
The Man Who Found the Missing Link by Pat Shipman
The Statue Within: An Autobiography by Francois Jacob
The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
What do molecules in a cell have in common with lions in the Serengeti? They all follow rules, says scientist and author Sean B Carroll. He chooses the best books on biology, from the death of the dodo to the discovery of DNA.
The best books on Microbes , recommended by Paul Falkowski
Micrographia: The Complete Facsimile of the First Printing of 1665 by Robert Hooke
Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth by Andrew H Knoll
The Genesis of Germs by Alan L. Gillen
Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World by Christian Sardet
Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution by Dorion Sagan & Lynn Margulis
Without them, plants and animals wouldn’t exist and even the Earth’s geology would be different. Paul Falkowski recommends the best books on microbes.
The best books on Extinction and De-Extinction , recommended by Beth Shapiro
The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson
The Cave Bear Story by Björn Kurtén
Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine
The Making of the Fittest by Sean B Carroll
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro tells us why it’s impossible to clone a mammoth, and why we might want to. She guides us through five inspiring books to get us thinking about extinction and the role genetics could potentially play in maintaining biodiversity.
The Best Books for Growing up in the Anthropocene , recommended by Caspar Henderson
Natural History by Pliny the Elder
The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin
The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss by Claire Nouvian
Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hanson
The Techno-Human Condition by Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz
Welcome to life in the Anthropocene, a new epoch in the history of life where the impact of humanity on the Earth system is so great, we need a new term for it. Author and journalist Caspar Henderson offers a rich reading list to help ourselves and our children grow up in the Anthropocene.
The best books on Man and Ape , recommended by Helene Guldberg
Ape, Primitive Man and Child by Alexander Romanovich Luria and Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky
The Prehistory of the Mind by Steven Mithen
The Cradle of Thought by Peter Hobson
Aping Language by Joel Wallman
It’s fashionable today to liken humans to animals but the developmental psychologist says it’s more interesting to study the ways in which we’re remarkably different from other creatures
The best books on The Strangeness of Life , recommended by Carl Zimmer
Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Machinery of Life by David S. Goodsell
The Flamingo's Smile by Stephen Jay Gould
The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins
The science writer and award-winning blogger Carl Zimmer discusses the strangeness of life, from viruses to manipulative flatworms
The best books on Evolution and Human Cooperation , recommended by Paul Seabright
The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley
A Cooperative Species by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis
Hierarchy in the Forest by Christopher Boehm
Peacemaking Among Primates by Frans de Waal
Mothers and Others by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
Think of Darwinian natural selection and you may think of selfish or competitive behaviour, but this is far from the whole story, says economist Paul Seabright.
The best books on Prehistory , recommended by Tim White
Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Bernard DeVoto (editor)
The First Human by Ann Gibbons
Missing Links by John Reader
Paleoanthropologist Tim White tells us about his work investigating the origins of homo sapiens and explains what a 4.4 million-year-old skeleton he found in Africa tells us about our common past.
The best books on Earth History , recommended by Adam Maloof
The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin
Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
Rare Earth by Peter Ward and Don Brownlee
Chaos by James Gleick
Just as no one can study political science without a basic understanding of human history, or study a modern animal without a basic understanding of evolution, so no one can understand climate change without understanding the Earth’s history, argues the Princeton geology professor.
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Best Science Books on Human Evolution
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8 Best Books On Evolution (2023 Updated)
We know you’re having a hard time narrowing your list down to the best books on evolution.
So, if you find human evolution or, specifically, the theories of evolution enjoyable and exciting to read, here are the best books on evolution that we recommend to evolutionary science fanatics like you!
- Tone and context are conversational
- Profound and subtle scientific ideas
- Details human development and genetics
- New voice to the original philosophy
- Additional knowledge about humankind existence
- Updated explanations backing the first edition
- Tackles history of intelligence measurement
- Emphasize systematic racism in science
- Eye-opening context and points
1. By Richard Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker
2. by charles darwin - the annotated origin, 3. by stephen jay gould: the mismeasure of man, 4. charles darwin: voyaging by janet browne, 5. evolution: what the fossils say and why it matters, 6. the incredible unlikeliness of being written by alice roberts, 7. darwin comes to town by menno schilthuizen, 8. why evolution is true by jerry coyne, finding the best books on evolution, top 8 books on evolution.
The works of Michael Ruse are also excellent books in terms of tackling human development, but I would recommend The Blind Watchmaker instead, written by Richard Dawkins.
We like how Dawkins details human nature and creationism through the metaphor of the skilled watchmaker. We also like how it argues that natural selection and sexual selection are unconscious processes.
Dawkins shows how simple humans and other organisms can evolve into complex and beautiful life forms over time.
- Bloated, missing crucial points
- Dense and pedantic
The book On the Origin of Species is regarded as the most important scientific work in history.
We love how James T. Costa introduces the book through a series of lines that span its entirety.
It’s full of insights and a thorough explanation of what Darwin wants to convey.
If you want a detailed description of our development, you need to check this book out!
- Must read the first book
The Mismeasure of Man explores the history of scientific manipulation used to promote racism.
He claims that racism is a deeply rooted issue in modern society, and he goes through the data to prove it.
The book is very well written, and it’s full of interesting ideas.
There’s also a lot of discussion about mathematics, but it’s also full of great prose.
- No up-to-date information
- No revisions at all
As the title suggests, only one book, the Voyaging by Janet Browne, conveys a genuinely vivid and extensive picture of Charles Darwin as a man and scientist.
This is by far the best scientific biography we’ve read. Her style of writing is almost novelistic and not fiction.
This book is something that human beings must read through to better deal with agonizing personal challenges and exhilarating discoveries in the future.
- Clearly details Charles D.’s biography
- Intensively-researched facts and context
- Full of evolutionary ideas
- A bit dense and slow-going
- Must read the second volume
This seminal book is an entertaining and thorough history of the various transitional forms and series found in the fossil record.
Besides, it discusses a wide range of topics, so it gains a wider audience.
If you’re looking for something that features an extensive analysis of the various transitional forms and series, and the transition from early homo sapiens to modern humans, this is our most recommended one.
We like the way this book explores the various links in the fossil record that are still unexplained.
- Critique of intelligent design and creationism
- Details the “missing link” in fossil records
- Historical samples and story observations
- Includes many technical terms
- No botanical development mentioned
Alice Roberts takes readers on an incredible journey in this book, showing us how far we have come since our single cell.
It covers the story of human development, which is a complex tale that explores the connections between our distant ancestors and the events that shaped our world.
This book is very impressive in our point of view as it details a story of discovery, which explores how and why we have developed as we are now.
- Supported by natural scientific proofs
- Details the development of human race in new science
- Excellent guide to practical development
- Includes many technical term
- Focused only on embryology and anatomy
Through this book, we can explore the remarkable stories of how cities have evolved to accommodate humankind and wildlife in a unique way.
It shows that natural selection can happen more rapidly than Darwin thought.
This book also provides hope that our race toward population control may not destroy the rest of human nature.
If you’re looking for a great scientific storyteller, this book is for you. It will allow you to learn a lot about the subject.
- Conveys knowledge in an entertaining way
- Excellent guide on urban natural selection
- Details the most concepts of biology
- Somewhat provocative
- Some points are not convincing
Jerry Coyne’s book with the title, Why Evolution Is True, combines the multiple threads of modern scientific work related to Darwin’s theory of natural selection in a compelling explanation.
We like how this book focuses on giving new insights and proof, not just stating facts about the progress of humanity, animals, and other life forms on Earth.
Definitely a must-read for everyone!
- Brilliant introduction to evolutionary theory
- Easy read, points are understandable
- Evident information and new knowledge
- Outdated information
- Some points are not backed by current science
- Rant-like type contexts
The most reliable evidence for human evolution is found at all levels of organization in living things and in the extinct species we know about through fossils. Fossils provide proof of the evolutionary change through now-extinct forms that led to modern species. [ 1 ]
The father of evolution is none other than Charles Darwin. The Theory Of Evolution was his radical idea, and 150 years after he published the book On The Origin Of Species , there came various arguments about how human beings and other living things evolve. [ 2 ]
Over the course of life, there’s no definite explanation if the theory of evolution is true or not. No one knows everything about human development, so we read books written by a scientist like Charles Darwin or a philosopher or professor like Michael Ruse.
If you’re into the history of humans and the evolutionary process of lives in our natural world, these books are your must-haves. These informative books can help you answer the question, “where do we really come from?”
Thank you for reading this far! I hope that the information provided in this article will be helpful to you.
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Top 16 Best Books On Evolution Updated 03 /2023
Dennis lehane mar 7, 2023 4:58 pm.
Here we ranked and reviewed the top 16 Best Books On Evolution that are highly rated by 14,552 customers.
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Best Books On Evolution
Biological adaptations have made it possible for animals, like humans, to live and even thrive in certain places. But these changes in biology happen at random, and some are so bad that they can lead to the death of species.
This is what Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Origin of Species in 1859. He was the first person to write about evolution. Since then, scientists have made progress in their understanding of how life began on Earth, which led to the plants and animals we see around us in the present.
Adam Hart is a professor at the University of Gloucestershire who teaches about how to talk about science.
Biolgist: Adam is also a TV host, author, and biologist, and his work has to do with insects like wasps and ants. Adam also talks about African ecology and how to keep them safe. He is a frequent TV and radio host, presenting documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service about a wide range of subjects. These include tree diseases, chance discoveries, and living with predators.
Adam started writing his new book on evolution, Unfit For Purpose, after he thought about whether our "modern day woes" might be partly caused by the fact that we have changed our environment so much in the last few decades. You can read more about this idea in the book Unfit for Purpose, which looks at how evolution has had an impact on everything from stress and addiction to obesity and dietary intolerances to violence and fake news.
It doesn't matter if you've already read The Origin of Species or not. You'll find something new in these science books about the survival of the fittest.
The Blind Watchmaker
Richard Dawkins has written a lot of books about evolution, so it would be hard to make a list of books about evolution without including one from him. His book, The Selfish Gene, might be a good choice for some people. For me, The Blind Watchmaker is a better title, and it was a big part of my path to becoming a biologist.
In 1986, Dawkins wrote a book called "The Blind Watchmaker" to dispel the idea that the natural world needs a "designer." Complex structures, like eyes, can evolve through natural selection, which is called the "blind watchmaker." A lot of ground is covered in the book by Dawkins, and he shows his ideas with a wide range of examples.
Using computer modeling and theoretical approaches, he looks at the limits and scope of evolution driven by selection. He also shows how these techniques can be used by a wider audience and show the power of theory. I read the book for the first time in 1993, when I was about to start college. It gave me a real sense of excitement for what was to come.
Why Evolution is True
Jerry Coyne's book Why Evolution Is True is based on Richard Dawkins' spirited public defense of evolution, and it does exactly what it says on the cover!
As someone who doesn't believe in evolution, I think this book is for you. It will help you get ready to fight someone who doesn't believe in evolution. Ten years ago, the book was written in a way that was clear, interesting, and comprehensive. It still makes a strong case for evolution. Coyne also runs a blog with the same name. If you want to keep up with important evolutionary science, you should check it out.
Darwin Comes to Town
How does life change to fit us? This is the big question that this fascinating look at how humans have changed the world around us tries to answer.
To show his ideas, Schilthuizen looks at everything from city pigeons to urban weeds in a wide range of studies. "Unnatural selection" has been looked at by other people, but Schilthuizen's account is the most interesting one I have read. I made a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the subject years ago.
If you want to spend some time with a great scientific storyteller and learn a lot in the process, then this book is for you.
Look at this part of the book Darwin Comes to Town.
The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being
Alice Roberts is, of course, a well-known broadcaster, but she is also an academic who studies the human body and how it changed over time. Academic rigor and clear communication to a wider audience can be very powerful when they work together well. In The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being, that combination makes one of the best books on human evolution there is.
In his book, "Why We Are What We Are," Roberts looks at genetics, anatomy, evolution, human ecology, and more to figure out why we are the way we are. How would you describe this?
Charles Darwin: Voyaging
You should read Janet Browne's Charles Darwin: Voyaging if you want to learn about evolution as an idea, how it came to be, and the man who put together one of the most important scientific ideas of all time. It's the first in a two-volume series about Darwin's life.
In the beginning, I was gripped by this book. My copy is in my carry-on luggage, and I'm waiting for the next long flight and a long-overdue second reading. After that is done, I'll start Browne's second book, The Power of Place.
Voyaging is a very detailed and interesting biography of Darwin's life up until the age of 49, which includes his voyage on the Beagle, which is the title of the book. If I had to save one book from a fire, this would be it. It's a great example of how to tell a true story.
The Descent Of Man
By Charles Darwin
This is the most important book about how humans evolved, and it was written by Charles Darwin 12 years after On the Origin of Species. Don't be afraid of its length. If you don't want to read about sexual selection, you can skip a lot of it. There are a lot of good reasons to think that humans, or Homo sapiens, are the result of an evolutionary process that was fueled by natural selection, just like all other organisms. From monkeys, we have come to be. Darwin says that Social Darwinism, which says that life is a brutal fight for survival, so "might is right," is wrong. We are social beings, and the best way to do good is to help other people.
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The 7 Best Books about Evolution to Boost Your Understanding
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We learn about evolution in school and it comes up frequently in daily life. An article here and there or a conversation with a friend might include a passing reference to the theory of evolution and what it means for a certain topic.
How often do you truly dig into the idea of evolution, though? Understanding how humanity (and all life, for that matter) came to be can help inform you about your own behavior and the behavior of those around you.
Further, a good grasp of evolution can give you a vast appreciation of the natural world and its wonders.
If you’re looking to boost your understanding of evolution, you’re in the right place . We’ve compiled 7 of the best books about evolution that you can start reading and use to fill in the gaps in your understanding.
Let’s take a look.
7. Ape Mind, Old Mind, New Mind: Emotional Fossils and the Evolution of the Human Spirit
One of the flaws of basic evolution textbooks is that they paint a simplistic picture of human nature. One aspect of that picture is that people evolve with themselves in mind, ultimately leaning on self-preservation rather than collaboration.
Ape Mind, Old Mind, New Mind is written by a psychiatrist who examines human behavior from the perspective of collaboration rather than selfishness. He uses his experiences to argue that we are actually an altruistic species at heart, following that line of reasoning into questions about the origins of consciousness, reason, and more.
- Written by a psychiatrist who examines human behavior from the perspective of collaboration rather than selfishness
- Provides an arguably more balanced picture of human nature
- Examines consciousness, reason, and other abstract capabilities of the human mind
6. Explaining Life Through Evolution
Author Prosanta Chakrabarty situates humanity within the vast perspective of life on earth in this book. Detailing the 4 billion-year period that life has used to develop on earth, Explaining Life Through Evolution gives the reader a clear idea of evolution, humanity, and how the two intersect.
Someone looking for a comprehensive view of human evolution will certainly benefit from this book. Rather than rote facts and details, Chakrabarty uses an interesting narrative to weave the scientific information included in any understanding of evolution.
- Situates humanity within the vast perspective of life on earth in this book
- Provides a comprehensive view of human evolution
- Details the evolution of life over four billion years
5. Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution
If you’re the parent of a new reader, Grandmother Fish is a perfect book to explain the basics of evolution.
The story informs children about the tree of life, how it operates, and where it comes from. This is a complex idea for children to imagine, especially considering the fact that you can hardly ever see evolution in front of your eyes.
So, an illustrated book that introduces the key points of evolution can be a great way to lay the foundation for your child.
- Customers recommend this book for children ages 2 through 5
- Great treatment of evolution for young readers
- Full of illustrations
- Helpful science notes for parents (to help answer those inconvenient questions)
4. Evolution – Making Sense of Life
This is the lone textbook on our list, but only because it’s an excellent introduction to evolution for those who aren’t familiar with it.
Expert writers, researchers, and scientists combine to weave storytelling and cold-hard facts about evolution in this textbook. Learn the fundamental principles all the way down to the nitty-gritty details of evolution. The book also utilizes case studies and relevant examples of evolution happening in our daily lives.
Learn everything you need to know with Evolution – Making Sense of Life .
- Great intro to evolution
- Mix of story-telling and hard facts
- Uses great case studies to illustrate the subject
3. Amazing Evolution: The Journey of Life
Amazing Evolution: The Journey of Life is a perfect hybrid of comprehensive information about evolution and unique, enthralling details.
What better way to understand evolution than through the lens of curious cases, interesting relationships, long-needed explanations, and more? For example, what’s the connection between a cabbage and a capybara ? Read the book and find out!
- Enough of a mix of advanced and basic information that both adults and kids will enjoy
- Unique, enthralling explanations of under-explained subjects
- Great teaching tool for children on the subject of evolution
2. A Pocket History of Human Evolution: How We Became Sapiens
For the human-centric reader, this book is the perfect fit. Learn precisely what scientists know about human evolution, from our shrub-dwelling ancestors of the Eocene to technological marvels of the 21st century.
A Pocket History of Human Evolution , as the name suggests, is also very succinct. That doesn’t mean it avoids the salient questions and details about human evolution, though. For example, do you know how crossbreeding between hominids influenced the creation of the human species? This book will tell you.
- Learn precisely what scientists know about human evolution.
- Succinct treatment of the topic of evolution.
- Great starting point for readers wanting to learn more about evolution.
1. Why Evolution is True
Our top pick is Why Evolution is True . The book covers the important arguments and debates that have held the study of evolution back in popular culture, detailing the specific things that disprove claims of its falseness.
Studying evolution through this lens allows you to get a deeper understanding of the process while equipping yourself with the knowledge needed to defend your trust in evolution should you ever need to. There are few things more frustrating than knowing something but failing to have the vocabulary to explain it.
This book will give you the points and details you need to better understand and explain evolution.
Further, if you’re on the fence about evolution or don’t understand it fully, this book will give you access to the vast bank of marvelous proof of its existence. It’s a win-win for any reader.
- Covers the important arguments and debates that have been had regarding evolution
- This book will give you the points and details you need to better understand and explain the topic
- Provides various arguments proving the scientific validity of evolution
How to Choose The Right Evolution Book
There are a lot of options above, and you might not know just where to start. Here’s a little rubric for you to use if you’re not set on a book yet.
True Beginners: Amazing Evolution: The Journey of Life , Grandmother Fish , Evolution – Making Sense of Life .
- These books are geared toward those without advanced knowledge of evolution. Still, they cover all of the bases and use interesting examples, images, and stories to make the information entertaining.
Casual Learners: Why Evolution is True , A Pocket History of Human Evolution , Explaining Life Through Evolution
- These are thorough books that cover evolution in detail. They’re not overly difficult, though, so they’re accessible to someone who isn’t used to reading scientific material, for example.
Academic Reading: Ape Mind, Old Mind, New Mind
- This is the sole book on the list that is written for academics or individuals used to reading academic writing. Ideas of psychology, psychiatry, evolution, and more are interwoven.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. what is the most famous book on evolution.
The most famous book about evolution is Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. The book is the flagship text in the study and understanding of evolution through natural selection.
We didn’t include The Origin of Species in our list because it’s a difficult read, geared toward scientists of the late 19th century.
2. What is The Study of Evolution Called?
The study of evolution is called “evolutionary biology.” This discipline studies the taxonomies of species, factors that contribute to evolution, and the process of evolution over time including the present.
3. Is Evolution Just a Theory?
Technically, evolution is a scientific “theory,” but that doesn’t have the same meaning as it would if you had a “theory” about something. A scientific theory can both be fact and theory, even though it isn’t deemed a “law.”
Scientific laws must be reproducible and operate in the same manner in every instance. The Law of Gravity, for example, is easily demonstrable. Evolution is not as immediate or easy to reproduce, so it has yet to be “proven” in the sense that you could prove one of Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Still, the Theory of Evolution has been studied and used innumerable times without fail to describe and predict the processes and changes of life.
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The 7 best books about evolution to boost your understanding faqs (frequently asked questions) .
What is The Most Famous Book on Evolution?
What is The Study of Evolution Called?
Is Evolution Just a Theory?
Technically, evolution is a scientific theory, but that doesn’t have the same meaning as it would if you had a “theory” about something. A scientific theory can both be fact and theory, even though it isn’t deemed a “law.”
Laws must be reproducible and operate in the same manner in every instance. The Law of Gravity, for example, is easily demonstrable. Evolution is not as immediate or easy to reproduce, so it has yet to be “proven” in the sense that you could prove one of Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Still, the theory of evolution has been studied and used innumerable times without fail to describe and predict the processes and changes of life.
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Twelve of the best books about biology of 2018.
Twelve Of The Best Books About Biology Of 2018 | @GrrlScientist
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Whether you are giving gifts to others or to yourself, this list of the best popular science books of 2018 about evolution, genetics and natural history is a great place to start reading and gifting
12 of the Best Books About Evolution, Genetics And Natural History Published in 2018. (Credit: book ... [+] jacket image composite by Bob O’Hara.)
Biology is comprised of a vast number of fields of study, not the least of which are evolution, genetics and natural history, which are my main focus in this collection. I ended up with 12 books in this group, all of which explore important biological concepts, ranging from how artificial selection has affected the evolution of domesticated animals, how urban environments have created a unique environment that is altering the evolution of birds and other wildlife, the evolution of modern humans, what caused the extinction of most of the world’s megafauna, the amazing variety of scientific model systems that are teaching us so much about ourselves and about the natural world, how plants create flowers, and several books that celebrate the rich biodiversity of trees, of bees, and of fishes. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have enjoyed finding and sharing them with you.
Unnatural Selection by Katrina van Grouw (Princeton University Press, 2018; Amazon US / Amazon UK )
This oversized book features exquisitely detailed drawings of skulls, skeletons, feathers, claws and more, all of which illustrate how domestic animals changed rapidly, thanks to artificial selection by animal breeders. The author of this gorgeous book, a scientist herself, argues that scientists have long overlooked the most convincing demonstrations of evolution in action by ignoring how humans have shaped the evolution and anatomy of domesticated animal breeds throughout the centuries, as her illustrations clearly show. Even if you never read a word of this well-written book (which would be a shame because the prose is excellent), the lovely drawings alone make it absolutely essential for anyone who is interested in animals, whether it is a general interest, or a more specific leaning towards animal anatomy and/or evolutionary biology. You don’t need to be a scientist, veterinarian, scientific illustrator or artist to fall deeply, madly in love with this painstakingly accurate, stunning book, so if you are buying this as a gift, be sure to pick up a copy for yourself, too.
Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Professor Menno Schilthuizen (Quercus Books, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
Humans have (and still are) changing plants and animals to suit our needs through selective breeding, but many wild birds and animals are now moving into cities, and are being changed by this decision so they can live amongst us more successfully. In fact, urban evolution has been occurring in our cities for centuries, under our noses, but we have only recently become aware of this. This interesting and wonderfully readable book discusses the extraordinary power of natural selection and how it’s driving evolution amongst urban wildlife, which are becoming ever more specialized to live in this unique habitat. The author includes persuasive examples of urban evolution in action, such as “city adapted” songbirds whose songs, calls, plumage colors, nesting behaviors and even peak activity times differ from their rural cousins so they can prosper in a more toxic, noisier, brighter, and busier environment than the wild spaces that their ancestors once knew. The writing is clear, the concepts are easily understood, and the examples include many familiar animals. This thoughtful and thought-provoking book will have broad appeal, but will be particularly enlightening for those who wish to learn more about how birds and wildlife are adapting to the modern urban ecosystem.
First in Fly: Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery by Stephanie Eliza Mohr (Harvard University Press, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
For more than 100 years, laboratory investigations into fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster , have revealed that these tiny insects’ genes, gene networks, cell interactions, physiology, immunity, and behaviors are surprisingly similar to those of humans and other animals. Their short lifespan, easily spotted mutants and ability to reproduce in large numbers have made fruit flies into a major scientific model system that has played an important role in scientific investigations from developmental biology to the testing of new drugs and identifying mutations resulting from radiation -- and of course, modern genetics would be impossible without the fruit fly. Written by Stephanie Elizabeth Mohr, a leader in the Drosophila research community, this lucid book introduces a variety of fundamental biological concepts discovered over the last century, thanks to fruit flies, and explores how Drosophila research has expanded our understanding of human health and disease, and led to effective treatments as well as a bunch of insights into important biological processes. In fact, the fruit fly has been so important to modern research that they have been the foundation for at least five Nobel Prizes. This fascinating book will especially appeal to students of the life sciences and the history of science, and to all curious people.
Lessons from the Lobster: Eve Marder’s Work in Neuroscience by Charlotte Nassim (MIT Press, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
What can thirty neurons in a lobster’s stomach teach you about the human brain? A lot, as it turns out. This engaging book by writer Charlotte Nassim tells the story of pioneering neuroscientist Eve Marder, who has devoted more than forty years of her life to studying a tiny network of neurons in the California spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus . Compared to mammals, the simplicity of this lobster’s nervous system makes it a superb model system for generating widely applicable insights into the modulation of neural activities, equilibrium and the secrets of how neural networks function. Along the way, we learn that Marder is particularly skilled at adopting and using a wide variety of established methods in conjunction with thoughtfully-designed experiments to investigate how this neural circuit works. This brilliant book also details daily life in the lab, and reveals how Marder, “without technological fireworks or lavish funding”, is steadily working to demystify human neurobiology. It reads like a carefully-crafted detective novel, and will inspire almost everyone, especially students of neuroscience and the life sciences, and those who enjoy reading about passionate, driven people.
Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson (Icon Books Ltd, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
When people talk about bees, they’re usually talking about the honeybee. However, there are tens of thousands of bee species out there, mostly overlooked, including all manner of small buzzy beasts, such as bumblebees and mason bees, leafcutter bees and solitary bees; all of which are critically important to maintaining our food supply. These bees also play important roles in human history, mythology, agriculture and even economics. This fascinating book starts at the beginning -- 125 million years ago -- to share the story of the bees from that special time when a branch of ancient wasps began their transformation to veganism when they started feeding pollen to their young. This delightful and informative book is crammed with a wealth of fascinating information about bees -- including their evolution from that ancestral wasp, their different reproductive, nesting, and dietary habits, their preferred habitats as well as their agricultural value from ancient through modern times. I was especially impressed by the chapter examining the contributions of bees to all of the components of a McDonald’s Big Mac Meal because it was a creative and effective way to draw readers’ attention to the importance of bees to our everyday lives. Everyone, from bee fans and nonspecialists, to hobbyist beekeepers and professional entomologists, will learn something about the bees from this satisfying book.
Blossoms: And the Genes that make them by Maxine F. Singer (Oxford University Press, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
Besides being beautiful, flowers are remarkable structures. But how does a plant make its flowers? Only 20 years ago, no one knew the answer to this very basic question. This delightful little book explains our current understanding about flowers, starting with explaining what plants are, discussing genes and how they evolved to work in teams, and the intricate molecular biology of how plants create flowers -- their gorgeous colors, stunning varieties of petal shapes and their alluring scents -- before concluding by telling the reader about the ways that humans are the accidental beneficiaries of flowers. Along the way, we learn how plants know when to bloom, how plants construct a flower properly so its particular pollinators are attracted to it, and we learn about the sorts of genetic instructions that underpin the entire process. Despite this advance in our knowledge, there is still so much to learn. The author, Maxine Singer, is a leading molecular biologist whose writing is direct and informative and, at times, humorous. If you’ve ever been fascinated by watching flowers grow and wondered how plants make them, this fascinating book is for you. I guarantee you will never look at flowers the same way again.
Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori (Laurence King Publishing, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
A brilliant blend of science, history, culture and folklore, this interesting and engaging book explores the relationship between people and trees as it circumnavigates the globe. Author and tree expert, Jonathan Drori, shares strange and fascinating stories about a variety of familiar or prominent trees species, from the redwoods of California, to Mexico’s avocado trees and India’s banyons, from Iran’s pomegranates, and Thailand’s rubber trees to Chile’s monkey puzzle trees, and tells about the trees that provide us with raw materials to make all sorts of wonderful things from maple syrup to aspirin. Each tree species is featured in a stand-alone vignette that is several pages long, making this book well-suited for dipping into whilst riding the subway or before dozing off to sleep. The quietly passionate writing is informative, interesting and quite delightful. The hardback version, which I’ve got, is one of the best-produced books I’ve read in years: the formatting is crisp and inviting, the paper is heavy and of high quality, and almost every page includes color drawings by artist Lucille Clerc that are simply breathtaking. Together, these features make this book a joy to touch, to hold and to read.
How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future by David Hu (Princeton University Press, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
The innovative ways that animals move have fascinated biologists for centuries, and also have much to teach the engineers of today about how to build better robots. The author, David Hu, who studies biolocomotion at Georgia Tech , regales us with astonishing tales of animal locomotion. For example, fire ants cling together to form rafts out of their bodies that allow them to float across oceans to colonize remote islands, and cockroaches can run at the equivalent of 200mph, bounce off walls and can even be squeezed down to one-quarter of their height and still keep going. This fascinating book not only shares research into animal movement, but also discusses how this knowledge is influencing cutting-edge technology and contributing to development of avant-garde applications in physics, engineering and robotics. This highly accessible and exciting book is a quick, enjoyable adventure. If nothing else, you will certainly gain a whole new appreciation for the near-indestructibility of cockroaches.
Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything by Helen Scales (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
As a lifelong fish-keeper, I’ve always been frustrated by people who don’t care how intelligent and truly interesting fishes are. Fortunately, marine biologist and writer, Helen Scales, has written this superb book about the fantastically diverse and rich world of the fishes, whether they live in your aquarium or in a coral reef on the opposite side of the planet. Dr. Scales starts by sharing the evolutionary history, biology, and ecology of the fishes, discusses fascinating research into their neurobiology, intelligence and memory, and details how fish glow in the dark, how they change sex, how they create colors, venoms and toxins, and explains the various methods that fish have evolved to hear and communicate -- and, this is for all us kids out here, we even learn that some fish communicate by farting. This highly readable, appealing and captivating account of the lives and behaviors of fishes will delight and inform, whether you are a professional marine biologist, a student of the sciences, an aquarist or diver, or a fascinated nonspecialist who just wants to read something different.
Eyes to See: The Astonishing Variety of Vision in Nature by Michael Land (Oxford University Press, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
Complex, image-forming eyes are amazing structures because most animals have them, and also because eyes evolved early, and independently, many times in evolutionary history. The author of this comprehensive book, Michael Land, is a British neurobiologist and a world-renowned authority on animal vision. In this captivating book, he gives a complete introduction to the eight principal types of eyes that evolved in animals, and explains some of the many elegant, ingenious experiments that have revealed how sight evolved and how it is used it to perceive the environment and to gain an advantage over other animals. Professor Land talks about the different visual systems in a variety of animals, including spiders, which have at least eight eyes, which are all adapted to different visual tasks, and the mantis shrimp, which, despite having twelve visual pigments (humans have only three), has surprisingly poor eyesight. But perhaps most interesting is that these animals’ eyes is where visual information is processed, whereas in humans, the brain is our visual processing center. The book ends by considering how constantly shifting images from our eyes are converted in the brain into the steady and integrated conscious view of the world we experience. Although this is not a textbook (Professor Land has already written one of those), the information in this book is detailed enough that its appeal may be limited to those with either some knowledge about, or a deep passion for learning about eyes and vision.
End of the Megafauna: The Fate of the World’s Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals by Ross D. E. MacPhee (W.W. Norton, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
It’s easy to forget that Africa is not the only continent that was home to giant beasts, such as elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses. Such so-called megafauna could be found on all the world’s continents and on a great many islands as well -- crocodiles that weighed more than a ton, huge birds weighing 500 pounds, and lemurs the size of gorillas. What happened to them? In this fascinating book, paleomammalogist and writer, Ross MacPhee, asks: what caused these mass extinctions? Were we to blame? The author provides a contemporary and detailed analysis of current hypotheses for these Near Time megafaunal extinctions -- extinctions of large vertebrates and their smaller relatives that occurred around 12,000 years ago. Professor MacPhee argues that the evidence suggests that hunting, climate change, and other human activities are to blame, especially on islands. If the author’s arguments are not interesting enough for you, these now-extinct megabeasts (along with some smaller, but still living relatives) are beautifully depicted in their preferred habitats in many incredible illustrations by artist Peter Shouten that are a joy to behold, and the book also includes excellent maps and diagrams. Sadly, some paintings are double-page spreads that are split in the middle by the book’s binding, make it impossible to appreciate the complete intact artwork.
Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich (Pantheon, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK )
Where did we come from and how did we get here are two of the most enduring questions that people ask, and these fundamental questions at the center of this fantastic book. Its author, biologist David Reich, who studies the population genetics of ancient humans, has been at the forefront of human genomics for his entire professional career. In this book, Professor Reich explains how the newest ancient DNA and whole genomics technologies are deepening our understanding of human origins and migration patterns as well as providing new insights into archeology, linguistics and even medical science. For example, Professor Reich discusses how the relationships between humans and Neanderthals are just one example of many where our shared genetic history resembles a complex network of intertwining lineages rather than the more traditional view of a tree whose branches separate and never rejoin. This intriguing book is probably the most up-to-date book available on this swiftly developing field, and is a great example of how technological innovations are changing our scientific and historical views of ourselves and how we came to be.
For more faboo science books, please refer to my previous annual mini-reviews of the 10 best books about biology in 2016 and 2017 .
Many thanks to the publishers and their publicity agents who graciously sent review copies of their beautiful books far off the beaten track to snowy Norway.
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What is Darwin's Theory of Evolution?
Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution is one of the most solid theories in science. But what exactly is it?
- Natural selection
- Origin of whales
- Rival theories of evolution
- Modern evolutionary synthesis
- Evidence for evolution
- Is evolution controversial?
The Theory of Evolution by natural selection was first formulated in Charles Darwin's book " On the Origin of Species (opens in new tab) " published in 1859. In his book, Darwin describes how organisms evolve over generations through the inheritance of physical or behavioral traits, as National Geographic (opens in new tab) explains. The theory starts with the premise that within a population, there is variation in traits, such as beak shape in one of the Galapagos finches Darwin studied.
According to the theory, individuals with traits that enable them to adapt to their environments will help them survive and have more offspring, which will inherit those traits. Individuals with less adaptive traits will less frequently survive to pass them on. Over time, the traits that enable species to survive and reproduce will become more frequent in the population and the population will change, or evolve, according to BioMed Central (opens in new tab) . Through natural selection, Darwin suggested, genetically diverse species could arise from a common ancestor .
Darwin did not know the mechanism by which traits were passed on, according to National Geographic. He did not know about genetics , the mechanism by which genes encode for certain traits and those traits are passed from one generation to the next. He also did not know about genetic mutation, which is the source of natural variation. But future research by geneticists provided the mechanism and additional evidence for evolution by natural selection
What is natural selection?
Darwin chose the term "natural selection" to be in contrast with "artificial selection," in which animal breeders select for particular traits that they deem desirable. In natural selection, it's the natural environment, rather than a human being, that does the selecting.
Put simply, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection can be described as "descent with modification," said Briana Pobiner (opens in new tab) , an anthropologist and educator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who specializes in the study of human origins. The theory is sometimes described as "survival of the fittest," but that characterization can be misleading, Pobiner said. Here, "fitness" refers not to an organism's strength or athleticism but rather its ability to survive and reproduce.
Natural selection can alter a species in small ways, causing a population to change color or size over the course of several generations, according to The Natural History Museum (opens in new tab) . When this process happens over a relatively short period of time and in a species or small group of organisms, scientists call it " microevolution ."
But when given enough time and accumulated changes, natural selection can create entirely new species, a process known as "macroevolution," according to Derek Turner and Joyce C. havstad in " The Philosophy of Macroevolution (opens in new tab) ." This long-term process is what turned dinosaurs into birds , amphibious mammals (such as an animal called Indohyus ) into whales and a common ancestor of apes and humans into the people, chimps and gorillas we know today.
Darwin also described a form of natural selection that depends on an organism's success at attracting a mate — a process known as sexual selection, according to Nature Education (opens in new tab) . The colorful plumage of peacocks and the antlers of male deer are both examples of traits that evolved under this type of selection.
How did whales evolve?
One of the best examples scientists have of natural selection, is the evolution of whales . By using Darwin's theory as a guide, and understanding how natural selection works, biologists determined that the transition of early whales from land to water occurred in a series of predictable steps.
The evolution of the blowhole, for example, might have started with random genetic changes that resulted in at least one whale having its nostrils farther back on its head, according to Phys.org (opens in new tab) .
The whales with this adaptation would have been better suited to a marine lifestyle, since they would not have had to completely surface to breathe. Such individuals were more successful and had more offspring. In later generations, more genetic changes occurred, moving the nose farther back on the head.
Other body parts of early whales also changed. Front legs became flippers. Back legs disappeared. Their bodies became more streamlined, and they developed tail flukes to better propel themselves through water, according to the Natural History Museum (opens in new tab) .
Even though scientists could predict what early whales should look like, for a long time they lacked the fossil evidence to back up their claim. Creationists viewed this absence, not just with regard to whale evolution but more generally, as proof that evolution didn't occur, as pointed out in a Scientific American article (opens in new tab) .
However, since the early 1990s, scientists have found evidence from paleontology , developmental biology and genetics to support the idea that whales evolved from land mammals. These same lines of evidence support the theory of evolution as a whole.
In the first edition of "On the Origin of Species," Darwin speculated about how natural selection could cause a land mammal to turn into a whale. As a hypothetical example, Darwin used North American black bears ( Ursus americanus ), which were known to catch insects by swimming in the water with their mouths open, according to the Darwin Correspondence Project (opens in new tab) .
"I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale," he speculated.
The idea didn't go over very well with the public or with other scientists. Darwin was so embarrassed by the ridicule he received (opens in new tab) that the swimming-bear passage was removed from later editions of the book. Scientists now know that Darwin had the right idea but the wrong animal. Instead of looking at bears, he should have been looking at cows and hippopotamuses .
Other theories of evolution
Darwin wasn't the first or only scientist to develop a theory of evolution. Around the same time as Darwin, British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace independently came up with the theory of evolution by natural selection, according to the Natural History Museum (opens in new tab) . However this had little impact.
"The concept of evolution as a historical event was a hot topic among biologists and geologists prior to Darwin’s book because there was so much evidence accumulating, but I suspect biological evolution hadn’t really impinged on people outside of the academic bunker," Dr. P John D. Lambshead, a retired science research leader in marine biodiversity, ecology, and evolution at The Natural History Museum, London, told All About History Magazine (opens in new tab) . "As long as science knew of no mechanism to explain how evolution happened it could be safely dismissed as a crank idea."
Meanwhile, French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed that an organism could pass on traits to its offspring, though he was wrong about some of the details, according to the University of California’s Museum of Paleontology (opens in new tab) .
Like Darwin, Lamarck believed that organisms adapted to their environments and passed on those adaptations. He thought organisms did this by changing their behavior and, therefore, their bodies — like an athlete working out and getting buff — and that those changes were passed on to offspring.
For example, Lamarck thought that giraffes originally had shorter necks but that, as trees around them grew taller, they stretched their necks to reach the tasty leaves and their offspring gradually evolved longer and longer necks. Lamarck also believed that life was somehow driven to evolve through the generations from simple to more complex forms, according to Understanding Evolution (opens in new tab) , an educational resource from the University of California Museum of Paleontology (opens in new tab) .
Though Darwin wasn't sure of the mechanism by which traits were passed on, he did not believe that evolution necessarily moved toward greater complexity, according to Understanding Evolution — rather, he believed that complexity arose through natural selection.
A Darwinian view of giraffe evolution, according to Quanta Magazine (opens in new tab) , would be that giraffes had natural variation in their neck lengths, and that those with longer necks were better able to survive and reproduce in environments full of tall trees, so that subsequent generations had more and more long-necked giraffes.
The main difference between the Lamarckian and Darwinian ideas of giraffe evolution is that there's nothing in the Darwinian explanation about giraffes stretching their necks and passing on an acquired characteristic.
What is modern evolutionary synthesis?
According to Pobiner, Darwin did not know anything about genetics. "He observed the pattern of evolution, but he didn't really know about the mechanism," she said. That came later, with the discovery of how genes encode different biological or behavioral traits, and how genes are passed down from parents to offspring. The incorporation of genetics into Darwin's theory is known as "modern evolutionary synthesis."
The physical and behavioral changes that make natural selection possible happen at the level of DNA and genes within the gametes, the sperm or egg cells through which parents pass on genetic material to their offspring. Such changes are called mutations . "Mutations are basically the raw material on which evolution acts," Pobiner said.
Mutations can be caused by random errors in DNA replication or repair, or by chemical or radiation damage, according to Nature Education (opens in new tab) . Usually, mutations are either harmful or neutral, but in rare instances, a mutation might prove beneficial to the organism. If so, it will become more prevalent in the next generation and spread throughout the population.
In this way, natural selection guides the evolutionary process, preserving and adding up the beneficial mutations and rejecting the bad ones. "Mutations are random, but selection for them is not random," Pobiner said.
But natural selection isn't the only mechanism by which organisms evolve, she said. For example, genes can be transferred from one population to another when organisms migrate or immigrate — a process known as gene flow. And the frequency of certain genes can also change at random, which is called genetic drift.
The reason Lamarck's theory of evolution is generally wrong is that acquired characteristics don't affect the DNA of sperm and eggs. A giraffe's gametes, for example, aren't affected by whether it stretches its neck; they simply reflect the genes the giraffe inherited from its parents. But as Quanta reported (opens in new tab) , some aspects of evolution are Lamarckian.
For example, a Swedish study published in 2002 in the European Journal of Human Genetics (opens in new tab) found that the grandchildren of men who starved as children during a famine passed on better cardiovascular health to their grandchildren. Researchers hypothesize that although experiences such as food deprivation don't change the DNA sequences in the gametes, they may result in external modifications to DNA that turn genes "on" or "off."
Such changes, called epigenetic changes, do not modify the actual DNA sequence itself. For instance, a chemical modification called methylation can affect which genes are turned on or off. Such epigenetic changes can be passed down to offspring. In this way, a person's experiences could affect the DNA he or she passes down, analogous to the way Lamarck thought a giraffe craning its neck would affect the neck length of its offspring.
What is the evidence for evolution?
The Theory of Evolution is one of the best-substantiated theories in the history of science. It is supported by evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including genetics, which shows that different species have similarities in their DNA .
There is also evidence supporting the Theory of Evolution in paleontology and geology. This is through the fossil record, which shows how that species that existed in the past are different from those present today, according to Bruce S. Lieberman and Roger L. Kaesler in " Prehistoric Life: Evolution and the Fossil Record (opens in new tab) " (Wiley, 2010).
There is also evidence for Darwin's theory found in developmental biology . It has been discovered that species that seem very different as adults pass through similar stages of embryological development, suggesting a shared evolutionary past, according to the open-access textbook " Concepts of Biology (opens in new tab) ."
Evidence for whale evolution from paleontology
The critical piece of evidence was discovered in 1994, when paleontologists found the fossilized remains of Ambulocetus natans , which means "swimming-walking whale," according to a 2009 review published in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach (opens in new tab) . Its forelimbs had fingers and small hooves, but its hind feet were enormous relative to its size. The animal was clearly adapted for swimming, but it was also capable of moving clumsily on land, much like a seal.
When it swam, the ancient creature moved like an otter , pushing back with its hind feet and undulating its spine and tail.
Modern whales propel themselves through the water with powerful beats of their horizontal tail flukes, but A. natans still had a whip-like tail and had to use its legs to provide most of the propulsive force needed to move through water.
In recent years, more and more of these transitional species, or " missing links ," have been discovered, lending further support to Darwin's theory. For example, in 2007, a geologist discovered the fossil of an extinct aquatic mammal, called Indohyus (opens in new tab) , that was about the size of a cat and had hooves and a long tail.
Scientists think the animal belonged to a group related to cetaceans such as Ambulocetus natans . This creature is considered a "missing link" between artiodactyls — a group of hoofed mammals (even-toed ungulates) that includes hippos, pigs, and cows — and whales, according to the National Science Foundation (opens in new tab) .
Researchers knew that whales were related to artiodactyls, but until the discovery of this fossil, there were no known artiodactyls that shared physical characteristics with whales. After all, hippos, thought to be cetaceans' closest living relatives , are very different from whales. Indohyus , on the other hand, was an artiodactyl, indicated by the structure of its hooves and ankles, and it also had some similarities to whales, in the structure of its ears, for example.
Evidence for whale evolution from genetics & developmental biology
Genetic evidence also supports the idea that whales evolved from land mammals and provides information about the exact branching of the evolutionary tree. For instance, in 1999, researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (opens in new tab) that according to genetic analysis of " jumping gene " sequences, which copy and paste themselves into genomes, hippos were whales' closest living relatives. Before 1985, researchers thought pigs were more closely related to whales, but this 1999 study overturned that idea, as the Associated Press (opens in new tab) reported.
In 2019, researchers reported in the journal Science Advances (opens in new tab) about which genes within the whale genome were inactivated during the process of the creature's evolution from land mammals, as Science Friday (opens in new tab) reported. The researchers could tell that certain genes, including one involved in making saliva, had been inactivated because there are remnants of them, which the researchers call genomic fossils, in whale genomes. This indicates that whales evolved from a salivating creature.
There's also evidence of cetacean evolution from developmental biology. Developmental biology illustrates the fact that animals that are very different as adults share similarities as embryos because they are evolutionarily related. For example, as embryos, cetaceans started to develop hind limbs, which disappear later in development, while the forelimbs remain and develop into flippers, according to the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach (opens in new tab) . This suggests that cetaceans evolved from a four-legged ancestor.
Is the theory of evolution controversial?
Despite the wealth of evidence from the fossil record, genetics and other fields of science, some people still question the theory of evolution 's validity. Some politicians and religious leaders denounce the theory, invoking a higher being as a designer to explain the complex world of living things, especially humans.
School boards debate whether the theory of evolution should be taught alongside other ideas, such as intelligent design or creationism.
Mainstream scientists see no controversy. "A lot of people have deep religious beliefs and also accept evolution," Pobiner said, adding, "there can be real reconciliation."
Evolution is well supported by many examples of changes in various species leading to the diversity of life seen today. "Natural selection, or to put it another way — variation, heredity, and differential fitness — is the core theory of modern biology," John Lambshead explains. "It is to biology what, say quantum mechanics and special relativity are to physics or the atomic model is to chemistry."
Additional reporting by contributors Alina Bradford, Ashley P. Taylor and Callum McKelvie
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (opens in new tab) has a presentation on whale evolution.
- To read the theory in its original form, see Darwin's book, " On the Origin of Species (opens in new tab) ."
- Check out this article (opens in new tab) for an overview of natural selection.
- To understand the difference between a theory and fact, see this National Academy of Sciences website (opens in new tab) .
20 Best Books On Evolution (Jan 2023 Update)
Are you looking for the Best Books On Evolution ? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Choosing the Best Books On Evolution can be difficult as there are so many considerations, such as Games Workshop, Heroclix, LEGO, Nintendo, Penguin Random House, Amazon.com. We have done a lot of research to find the Top 20 Best Books On Evolution available.
The average cost is $18.73 . Sold comparable range in price from a low of $4.70 to a high of $45.49 .
Based on the research we did, we think On the Origin of Evolution: Tracing 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' from Aristotle to DNA [Book] is the best overall. Read on for the rest of the great options and our buying guide, where you can find all the information you need to know before making an informed purchase.
20 Best Books On Evolution (19 Sellers)
Show more Show less
- Binding type: hardback
- Year published: 2022-08-15
- Number of pages: 304
- Travel back in time eight million years to explore the roots of the human family tree.
- Written and authenticated by a team of experts and with a foreword by dr alice roberts, evolution is a sweeping account of humans and our place in it.
- Isbn: 9781465474018publisher: dk publishing (dorling kindersley)pub date: 07/2018format: hardcoverweight: 3.55lbssize: 11.90h x 10.00w x 0.90d.
- Publisher: harper
- Year published: 2015-10-27
- How organisms re-engineer their genetic destiny in real time
- Amazing systems living things use to re-design themselves
- Every cell is armed with machinery for editing its own dna
- Binding type: paperback
- Year published: 2020-01-21
- Number of pages: 352
- Year published: 20151027
- Number of pages: 272
- And a growing number of scientists.
- The first direct evidence of nature's mutational pathways.
- Random mutation and natural selection.
- Interviews with scientists from leading universities and other institutions
- Over 800 color photos
- Balanced views
- Features 5 marvels of god's creation, including the giraffe and the woodpecker
- Deals with several specific conflicts between the bible and the theory of evolution
- Written by a theologian
- Year published: 2023-01-25
- Number of pages: 224
- Series: great discoveries
- Publisher: ww norton & co
- Number of pages: 288
- Genre: science
- Age range: teen
- Publisher: basic books updated ed edition.
- Publisher date: 6 oct.
- Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.9 x 21 cm.
- Publisher: princeton university press
- Year published: 2017-10-17
- Year published: 2020-02-10
- Number of pages: 40
- Publisher: master books
- Year published: 19990601
- Acclaimed author, matt ridley, shows just how wrong this is in his compelling new document.
- 2015 matt ridley (p)2015 harpercollins publishers limited.
- Year published: 20110901
- Number of pages: 256
- Pub date: 11/2009
- Format: hardcover
- Weight: 4.74lbs
1. On The Origin Of Evolution: Tracing 'darwin's Dangerous Idea' From Aristotle To Dna [Book]
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The best books on Evolution recommended by Jerry Coyne Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tells us why Darwin is still essential reading and sifts the vast amount of more recent writing on evolution for books that are both inspiring to scientists and accessible to general readers. He picks the best books on evolution.
Best evolution books The Blind Watchmaker Richard Dawkins Buy now from Amazon ( $9.99 ), Target ( $10.49) and eBay ( $15.00) It would be hard to compile a list of books about evolution without including something from Richard Dawkins.
In "Evolution" Roberts provides a concise, but highly informative overview of the history of humanity. She begins with short overviews of geology, paleontology, evolution, and fossil reconstruction. She then summarizes each known hominin from Sahelanthropus all the way to modern humans.
Best Books on Evolution... The list is a compilation of all the good books dealing with Evolution. This does not however contain the pseudo-scientific books which argue against THE FACT OF EVOLUTION... flag All Votes Add Books To This List ← Previous 1 2 3 Next → 270 books · 224 voters · list created March 17th, 2011 by Shabbeer Hassan (votes) .
5 best books on human evolution Evolution's Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins Peter Ungar Buy now from Amazon ( £16.76 ). My specialist subject is teeth - how they grow, and what we do with them.
Amazon.com: Evolution: Books 1-16 of over 60,000 results for "evolution" RESULTS The Evolution of Charles Darwin: The Epic Voyage of the Beagle That Forever Changed Our View of Life on Earth by Diana Preston | Oct 4, 2022 28 Hardcover $2349 $30.00 FREE delivery Fri, Feb 3 on $25 of items shipped by Amazon Or fastest delivery Wed, Feb 1
We have a wide range of interviews on Evolution and related issues. Jerry Coyne, professor of evolutionary biology at Chicago University, chooses his best books on the subject.. First up, unsurprisingly, is On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.. He also chooses a biography of the great man, Charles Darwin Voyaging by Janet Browne.. Other choices are The Blind Watchmaker by Richard ...
Best Science Books on Human Evolution (38 books) Listopia Best Science Books on Human Evolution We are looking for informative science books about the origins of human. There are countless theories on human evolution, as well as even more ideas on how it all started.
Best Sellers in Evolution #1 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari 66,031 Audible Audiobook 1 offer from $31.94 #2 A Sea without Fish: Life in the Ordovician Sea of the Cincinnati Region (Life of the Past) David L. Meyer 75 Kindle Edition 1 offer from $1.99 #3 The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity David Graeber 4,146
Evolution: A Very Short Introduction. Matteo Conti (2008). The Selfish Cell: An evolutionary defeat. Jerry Coyne (2009). Why Evolution Is True. D [ edit] Charles Darwin (1859). The Origin of Species. Charles Darwin (1871). The Descent of Man. Richard Dawkins (1976). The Selfish Gene. Richard Dawkins (1982). The Extended Phenotype.
Top 8 Books On Evolution 1. By Richard Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker The works of Michael Ruse are also excellent books in terms of tackling human development, but I would recommend The Blind Watchmaker instead, written by Richard Dawkins. We like how Dawkins details human nature and creationism through the metaphor of the skilled watchmaker.
Evolution: The Human Story, 2nd Edition View on Amazon SCORE 9.4 AI Score AI Score is a ranking system developed by our team of experts. It from 0 to 10 are automatically scored by our tool based upon the data collected (at the time of writing, more than 4,000 books and 3,000 authors).
The most famous book about evolution is Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. The book is the flagship text in the study and understanding of evolution through natural selection. We didn't include The Origin of Species in our list because it's a difficult read, geared toward scientists of the late 19th century. 2.
Whether you are giving gifts to others or to yourself, this list of the best popular science books of 2018 about evolution, genetics and natural history is a great place to start reading and gifting
The Theory of Evolution by natural selection was first formulated in Charles Darwin's book " On the Origin of Species " published in 1859. In his book, Darwin describes how organisms evolve over ...
Evolution: A Theory in Crisis --by Michael Denton In this book Denton tries to show that not only is some of the evidence used to support evolution nonexistent, but that the mechanism of evolution through natural selection is incapable of explaining macroevolution anyhow.
Choosing the Best Books On Evolution can be difficult as there are so many considerations, such as Games Workshop, Heroclix, LEGO, Nintendo, Penguin Random House, Amazon.com. We have done a lot of research to find the Top 20 Best Books On Evolution available. The average cost is $18.73.