November 24 is Evolution Day, commemorating the anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species on that day in 1859. In the spirit of marking such a momentous scientific discovery we suggest some of the following books.
The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins would later say he wished he’d titled this “The Immortal Gene.” Dawkins used the term ‘selfish’ gene to express a gene-centered theory of evolution as opposed to the schools that focused more on the organism and the group. Regardless what you think of the title, (or Richard Dawkins for that matter), there’s no doubt this was one of the most seminal books on gene selection and evolution ever published and it came in at #10 on The Guardian’s List of 100 Best Nonfiction Books. It recently came out in a revised 30th Anniversary Edition containing two new chapters reflecting newer findings and ideas.
The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (1991) By Jared Diamond. Diamond explores the animal origins of human behavior. He also explores how Homo Sapiens came to dominate their closest cousins the chimpanzees and why one particular group of Homo Sapiens (aka Eurasians) came to dominate all the other groups as well. In these investigations Diamond draws upon knowledge of physiology and geography arguing against the stock view of simple ‘superior genes’ theorizing that the dominant groups had certain advantages specific to their particular environments. It received the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and the Los Angeles Times Book prize as well.
The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time (1994) By Johnathon Weiner. The titular finches are of course are the Galapagos Finches that Darwin observed and that helped him come up with his theory of evolution. Weiner follows two modern day biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant whose research proved that if anything Darwin underestimated how powerful a force natural selection could be and how rapidly it could produce results. It won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction.
Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (2000) By Kenneth R. Miller. Miller a cell biologist and currently a professor at Brown University is also a Roman Catholic. To some this may seem like a contradiction but to Miller it isn’t. He argues that evolution does not contradict religious faith and in this book explains why. He continues the same train of thought in Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul published in 2008.
Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom (2005) By Sean Carroll. Carroll argues that evolution in animals proceeds typically by modifying the way regulatory genes control embryonic development. The regulatory genes are ancient, highly conserved genes that Carroll refers to as the “toolkit.” Both Discover magazine and USA Today named it one of the best science books of the year and it was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Science and Technology) and the National Academy of Science’s Communication Award.
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