Resources for People Interested in Learning about Evolution

Over on Twitter, a poster was interested in learning more about evolution and how it works.

I suggested the poster begin with Evolution 101, a website produced by the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

I then recommended four superb books (including one suggested by another poster).  These are all written with wonderful style and terrific content by world-class authors.

I’d begin with Carl Zimmer’s Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea.  This beautifully illustrated book was written as a companion to the PBS series on Evolution that aired in 2001.

The next three books are a bit more advanced, but still very accessible, and they could be read in any order.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins

Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin

I could make many, many more suggestions.  But that’s a start, and now I’ll let others weigh in with suggestions in the Comments below. 

Please label your selections as for the Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced student (and by student, I mean anyone, regardless of age or prior studies, who wants to learn about the science of evolution).

Please include only one link per post; otherwise, the spam filter may delete your post.  Also, I will delete any inappropriate suggestions.


Filed under Education, Science

7 responses to “Resources for People Interested in Learning about Evolution

  1. Evolution series by Dennis Venema posted on the Biologos webpage. I find his overview of evolution in 39 parts to be accessible to any beginner. Great for a non-majors biology course section on Evolution.

  2. Donald Prothero, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, Columbia University Press. Intermediate to Advanced.

    It is more technical and detailed than the books by Dawkins, Coyne, and Shubin (I haven’t read Zimmer’s book). It spends a little too much time on Creationists for my liking. But the wealth of palaeontological, and geological, detail make it a great companion for the books by the above listed biologists.

    • Naraoia

      It’s been a few years since I read Prothero’s book, but IIRC there were a couple of chapters (the origin of life one especially) that read like his understanding of the subject was less than secure. For example, at one point he conflated prokaryotic and eukaryotic flagella. I also recall that he sounds a bit… overconfident about issues that really don’t warrant such certainty. It occasionally reads like he was trying to win an argument rather than educate.

      Having said that, I’d still recommend it for the transitional fossil stuff.

      As for my own recommendation:

      The Book of Life, edited by SJ Gould.

      It’s definitely on the advanced side. If memory serves, it can get quite technical and there is a fair amount of palaeontological jargon. At this point it’s probably out of date, but it’s still a deeply fascinating read. There is a lot of discussion of the nature of the evolutionary process – punk eek, good genes versus good luck, the Cambrian explosion, extinctions and radiations, etc. I think, once you have a reasonable understanding of evolution, it’s a really good book to get a “different” perspective from. (Plus most of the illustrations are gorgeous.)

    • ratabago

      @Naraoia: Thanks for that memory jog. I’d completely forgotten that flagella stuff, and how it threw me at the time I was reading it. It’s only 2 paragraphs out of 359 pages, but he messes it up badly. He combines Eukaryote 9 + 2 flagella structure with the basal bodies of normal Prokaryote flagella, which he then assigns to spirochetes. It’s an idea he picked up reading Lynn Margulis.

      In his defence, the origins chapter starts with a statement that it is controversial, and ends with the statement that it is somewhat speculative. But it is a bit superficial, and I think the book would have been better without it.

      ” It occasionally reads like he was trying to win an argument rather than educate.” I think that’s what I had in mind when I said “too much time on Creationists”. I still think it is a very good book, but it could have made it to excellent if it had concentrated even further on the fossil record.

  3. I would suggest the archive ( faqs on evolution. The articles are generally older (most are mid 90s), but there are some really good articles. Things like 29 Evidences for Macroevolution and Transitional Vertebrate Fossils.

    It’s a mixed bag of material, but most are written by professional scientists in that field.

  4. Joe Dickinson

    For the logic and mechanisms of evolution (as opposed to evidence for the historical fact) I think you still can’t beat Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker”.

  5. Adam Benton over at his Evolutionary Anthropology blog, makes some book and blog recommendations that he splits up into four levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and creationist-debunking. I would recommend Adam’s blog in general, as an amazing resource; almost everything I know about anthropology, I learnt from his blog.

    I would advocate for promoting blogs over books because they build a sense of community and allow the learner to engage directly with the author. Also, unlike books they can adapt to the needs of the reader and current events. It is also a great way to overcome the “peer-reviewed” fetish that a lot of debunkers seem to have. Any work, blog post or Nature article needs to be judged primarily on its own merit, not the authority of three anonymous reviewers.

    Of course, for the most active-learning experience, I would recommend Q&A sites like the biology stackexchange.