Science doesn’t have to be scary. There are many books that can offer a good introduction on a variety of typically complex subjects. These four books range in topic from genetics to evolutionary biology to botany.
The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff
This is one of my absolute favorite science books. For hundreds of years, western civilization has been obsessed with trying to find and name all life on Earth. This is no mean feat and is still a goal of many biologists today. This book explains the ‘mad pursuit of life on Earth’ and how the techniques used to find and procure specimens have changed throughout time. At the back of the book is a list of scientists who have lost their lives searching for new species. I recommend this book to anyone excited by the discovery of new species such as the olinguito, the tigrina or the pygmy tapir, or interested in the history of science.
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
You’ve probably heard of Michael Pollan’s other book ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’. ‘The Botany of Desire’ is broken down into 4 chapters. Each chapter focuses on one plant and the human desire that it satisfies: the apple and sweetness, the tulip and beauty, marijuana and intoxication, the potato and control. Each chapter discusses both the natural history and the social science of the relationship between the plant and humans. Sometimes the relationship is mutually beneficial, sometimes it’s a little more one-sided. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science history or an interest in humans’ relationship with plants.
Don’t be alarmed by the title of this book. It written like a sex advice column, but for the animal kingdom. It covers everything from monogamy in large birds to mites that mate with their siblings and die before they’re born to role reversal in hyenas. It’s written in a very accessible, informal tone and it’s a relatively quick read. When I read this book for the first time, I laughed out loud in sections and kept reading passages aloud to my friends. This is one of my most highly loaned books. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys random trivia or evolutionary biology.
Genome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley
This might sound cliche, but this book changed my life. I read it for the first time when I was a senior in high school. I enjoyed this book so much, I seriously considered getting my degree in genetics (that didn’t happen, but I still really enjoy it). It covers each chromosome in its own chapter, all 23 of them. The book covers complicated topics in genetics in an understandable way, from genetic disorders to sex linked genes to regional variation. I hope to reread this book sometime soon. Given the prevalence of personal genetics in the news lately, I recommend this book to just about everyone who would like to understand what people are talking about.