For people who want to read about evolution, genetics, and nature, this is a good place to start. There are many different fields of study in biology, not the least of which are evolution, genetics, and natural history. This collection is all about these subjects. All of the books in this group are about important biological concepts, like how artificial selection has changed the evolution of domesticated animals, how urban environments have created a unique environment that is changing the evolution of birds and other wildlife, how modern humans evolved, what caused the extinction of most of the world’s megafauna, and the amazing variety of scientific model systems that are teaching us so much about how the world works. I ended up with 12 books in this group. As much as I have enjoyed finding and sharing these books with you, I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
This huge book is filled with detailed drawings of skulls, skeletons, feathers, claws, and more, all of which show how domestic animals changed quickly thanks to animal breeders. The author of this beautiful book, who is also a scientist, says that scientists have been ignoring the most convincing evidence of evolution in action by not paying attention to how humans have shaped the evolution and anatomy of domesticated animal breeds over the centuries. Her illustrations show this clearly. People who are interested in animals need to read this well-written book, but even if they don’t read it, the beautiful drawings alone make it a must-have for anyone who wants to learn more about animals, whether it’s about animal anatomy or evolution. You don’t have to be a scientist, veterinarian, scientific illustrator, or artist to fall in love with this book. If you’re buying it as a gift, be sure to get one 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 do) change plants and animals to meet our needs through selective breeding. Many wild birds and animals are now moving into cities, where they are being changed by this move so they can live with us better. As it turns out, our cities have been changing for centuries, right in front of our eyes. We only recently learned about this fact. This book is very interesting and very easy to read. It talks about the amazing power of natural selection and how it drives evolution in urban wildlife, which are becoming more and more specialized to live in this unique environment. The author gives examples of urban evolution in action, like “city adapted” songbirds that have different songs, calls, plumage colors, nesting behaviors, peak activity times, and more than their rural cousins. They can thrive in a more toxic, noisy, bright, and busy environment than their ancestors did. The writing is clear, the concepts are easy to understand, and the examples use a lot of animals that people know. Those who want to learn more about how birds and other wildlife are adapting to the modern urban ecosystem will find this book very interesting. This book is both thoughtful and thought-provoking.
First in Fly: Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery by Stephanie Eliza Mohr (Harvard University Press, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK)
Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies have been studied in labs for more than 100 years. These studies have shown that these tiny insects’ genes, gene networks, cell interactions, physiology, immunity, and behaviors are very similar to those of humans and other animals. Fruit flies have become a very important scientific model system because of their short lives, easy-to-find mutations, and ability to reproduce in large numbers. They have been used in a wide range of scientific studies, from developmental biology to the testing of new drugs and identifying mutations caused by radiation. Stephanie Elizabeth Mohr, a leader in the Drosophila research community, wrote this book. It explains how fruit flies have helped us learn about human health and disease over the last century, and how Drosophila research has led to effective treatments and a lot of new knowledge about important biological processes. At least five Nobel prizes have been won because of fruit flies. This book is especially interesting to people who study the life sciences and the history of science, as well as people who are just curious.
Lessons from the Lobster: Eve Marder’s Work in Neuroscience by Charlotte Nassim (MIT Press, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK)
In a lobster, there are 30 neurons in its stomach. What can these neurons tell you about how the human brain works? Many, it turns out. This book by Charlotte Nassim is about Eve Marder, a pioneering neuroscientist who has spent more than 40 years studying a tiny network of neurons in the California spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus. She has spent her whole life studying this network of neurons. Compared to mammals, this lobster’s nervous system is very simple. This makes it a great model for studying how neural activities are controlled, how neural networks work, and how they stay stable. Along the way, we learn that Marder is very good at adapting and using a wide range of well-known methods with well-thought-out experiments to find out how this neural circuit works. This book also talks about what it’s like to work in a lab, and it shows how Marder, “without technological fireworks or a lot of money,” is working to “demystify human neurobiology.” It reads like a well-written detective story, and it will inspire almost everyone, especially people who study neuroscience and the life sciences, as well as people who like reading about people who are passionate and driven.
Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson (Icon Books Ltd, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK)
As a rule, when people talk about bees, they’re mostly talking about the honeybee. However, there are tens of thousands of bee species out there that most people don’t know about, like bumblebees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, and solitary bees, all of which are important to keeping our food supply safe and healthy. This is why it’s important to protect bees. Also, these bees play important roles in human history, mythology, agriculture, and even in the world’s money. Amazingly, this book starts at the beginning, 125 million years ago. It tells the story of the bees from that special time when a branch of ancient wasps started giving pollen to their young. This book is full of interesting facts about bees, including how they evolved from the original wasp, how they reproduce, nest, and eat, and where they like to live. It also talks about how important bees have been to agriculture from ancient times to today. I was very impressed with the chapter that looked at how bees made everything in a McDonald’s Big Mac Meal. It was a creative and effective way to show how important bees are to our daily lives. Everyone who likes bees, even if they don’t know a lot about them, will learn something new from this book. Hobbyist beekeepers and professional entomologists will also enjoy this 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 also very interesting structures. In other words, but how does a plant make flowers? No one knew the answer to this simple question 20 years ago. This little book is full of fun facts about flowers. It starts by explaining what plants are, then talks about genes and how they evolved to work together, and then talks about the intricate molecular biology of how plants make flowers, which include their beautiful colors, stunning varieties of petals, and alluring scents. Along the way, we learn how plants know when to bloom, how plants build a flower so its pollinators are attracted to it, and what kinds of genetic instructions are at the heart of the whole thing. There is still so much we don’t know, even though we’ve learned a lot. The author, Maxine Singer, is a well-known molecular biologist who writes in a way that is both direct and informative and, at times, funny. In this book, you’ll learn a lot about how plants make flowers and how they grow. It is a promise that 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)
This book is a great mix of science, history, culture, and folklore. It looks at the relationship between people and trees as it travels around the world. Jonathan Drori, an author and expert on trees, tells interesting and weird stories about a wide range of trees, from the redwoods of California to the avocado trees of Mexico and the banana trees of India. He also talks about the trees that give us raw materials to make everything from maple syrup to aspirin. Each species of tree is featured in a separate vignette that is several pages long. This book is great for reading while riding the subway or before going to sleep. The writing is informative, interesting, and a lot of fun. Hardback version: This is one of the best-produced books I’ve read in a long time. The paper is thick and high-quality, and Lucille Clerc’s color drawings are stunning on almost every single page of the book. They make this book a lot of fun to touch, pick up and 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)
Biologists have been fascinated by animals’ unique ways of moving for a long time. They also have a lot to teach engineers about how to make better robots. The author, David Hu, is a biolocomotion researcher at Georgia Tech. He tells us stories about how animals move that are both amazing and weird. They can make rafts out of their bodies that can help them cross the ocean and get to remote islands. Cockroaches can run at 200mph, bounce off walls, and even be squeezed down to one-quarter their height and keep going. This book not only talks about how animal movement research is influencing cutting-edge technology, but it also talks about how this knowledge is helping to make new applications in physics, engineering, and robotics more interesting and cutting-edge as well. This book is very easy to read and very exciting. It’s a quick, fun read. The near-indestructibility of cockroaches is something you’ll learn a lot more about.
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 longtime fish owner, I’ve always been annoyed by people who don’t care about how clever and interesting fish are. Helen Scales, a marine biologist and author, has written a great book about the fishes, whether they live in your aquarium or in a coral reef on the other side of the world. Starting with the fishes’ evolution, biology, and ecology is Dr. Scales. He tells us how fish glow in the dark and how they change sex, how they make colors, venoms, and poison, and how some fish communicate by farting, which is a fun fact for all of us kids out there! If you’re a professional marine biologist, a student of the sciences, an aquarist, a diver, or a curious nonspecialist who just wants to read something different, this book is for you. It’s very easy to read, appealing, and captivating.
Eyes to See: The Astonishing Variety of Vision in Nature by Michael Land (Oxford University Press, 2018: Amazon US / Amazon UK)
Eyes are amazing because most animals have them and also because they evolved early and independently many times in the history of evolution. The British neurobiologist who wrote this book, Michael Land, is a world-renowned expert on animal vision. He is the author of this book. In this book, he gives an in-depth look at the eight main types of eyes that animals have, and he talks about some of the elegant, clever experiments that have shown how sight evolved and how it is used to see the world and get an advantage over other animals. Spiders have at least eight eyes, each of which is adapted to a different visual task, and the mantis shrimp has twelve visual pigments (humans only have three), but despite this, the mantis shrimp can’t see very well. Besides, it’s also interesting that these animals’ eyes are where visual information is processed. In people the brain is where we process visual information. The book comes to an end by looking at how our eyes send images to our brains that are constantly changing. These images are turned into the steady and integrated conscious view of the world we see. Even though this isn’t a textbook, Professor Land has already written one of those. The information in this book is so detailed that its appeal may be limited to people who already know a lot about, or have a strong desire to learn more about, eyes and vision.