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10 Books Every Aspiring Biologist Should Read

by Olivia L. Dobbs about a year ago in Science · updated about a year ago
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Biology Books that Leave a Lasting Impact

10 Books Every Aspiring Biologist Should Read
Photo by Lê Tân on Unsplash

Ah... biology textbooks. They weigh a ton, cost an arm and a leg, and they're as boring as watching a puddle evaporate. Even the most passionate budding scientist's eyes can glaze over during long study sessions. After so much cramming, interest in nature can start to fade if you're not careful.

But, how can you hold interest in your dream career when your required reading is drier than the Sahara?

Supplement your education with with engaging, extracurricular biology reads.

Discover the top ten biology books that will ignite your curiosity and inspire you to keep learning:

1. Your Inner Fish | Neil Shubin

If you were ever obsessed with dinosaurs, this is the book for you. Dr. Shubin provides an in-depth look into the life a paleontologist, documenting his discovery of one of the most important recent specimens to be found: Tikataalik.

Your Inner Fish is also an excellent choice for future doctors or any scientist interested in human or animal anatomy. After reading this book, I felt that I had a better grasp on osteology, physiology, and also my own body's functions and processes! Plus, Dr. Shubin is a fabulous writer; his passion for anatomy is contagious.

2. Undeniable | Bill Nye

If you sang along to Nye's opening theme song in elementary school, you'll enjoy this book. It's written like Bill Nye the Science Guy scripts: conversational, quirky, and entertaining. Inspired by his debate with Ken Ham on evolution, Nye writes about the mountains of extant proof of evolution.

If you're fascinated by evolution, or intrigued by the idea of winning arguments against your creationist pals, Undeniable is a great book to begin with. Unlike other books that prove evolution, Nye's version is written for the general public and the not-necessarily-scientifically-minded, which makes it an excellent tool to educate others with!

3. On the Origin of Species | Charles Darwin

No biology book list would be complete without the natural selection man himself! But seriously, I was blown away by this book. For what is essentially a long scientific journal written almost 200 years ago, this book reads like a breeze! After listening through the audio book, there's no doubt in my mind why this book is still so commonly talked about today.

No matter what sort of biology you're interested in, this book is a must-read. It is, essentially, the book that started modern biology. To discover the roots of the field you love, give Darwin a try.

4. The Greatest Show on Earth | Richard Dawkins

The Greatest Show on Earth reads like a love letter to evolution, and is an excellent follow-up piece to On the Origin of Species. Dawkins masterfully explains the modern proof that now supports Darwin's theories, hypothesis, and even some suppositions.

This book was a life changer for me. This, paired with a particularly phenomenal semester of general bio, made me promptly switch my major from Marine Biology to Evolutionary Biology. If you haven't yet read Dawkins before, stop reading this and go order The Greatest Show on Earth!

5. Human Errors | Nathan H. Lents

This book is the perfect choice for anyone interested in genetics, anatomy, humanity, or evolution! In Human Errors, Dr. Lents covers all the strange ways that evolution failed to make us perfect, with focus on the genetic and physiological goofs that we've developed.

If you'd like to get a good feel for the writing style, or simply don't have the time to read through the whole book, Dr. Lents did a 30 minute TED talk on Human Errors that I highly recommend!

6. A Crack in Creation | Jennifer A. Doudna

If you're interested in genetics, or just a huge fan of Gattaca, Dr. Doudna is the author for you. As the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipient for her work on CRISPR gene editing, this biochemist is the modern authority on all things genetic.

Though genetics and biochemistry aren't particularly my favorite sections of biology, I found this book utterly fascinating. The ethical questions and moral quandaries alone make this book worth the read, but the knowledge you can gain about your DNA is underrated.

7. Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation | Olivia Judson

If you're interested by animal behavior, psychology, intelligence, or sex and sexuality, read this book. Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation is one of my favorite biology nonfiction books I've ever read. It's the sort of book I'll pick up again every few months to use as a source or just refresh my memory on a particular behavior subject.

Written like an advice column, Dr. Judson's writing is engaging, hilarious, and tremendously thought-provoking. If you're considering any form of behavioral science, this is the perfect book for you to start out with.

8. Wilderness Essays | John Muir

Are you considering becoming a park ranger? Read John Muir. As the father of the national parks and one of the earliest advocates for wilderness preservation, Muir's work is an intimate glimpse into the origin of conservation biology.

His love for the natural world is endlessly inspiring. When I was buried in college textbooks, pausing to read his material reminded me why I chose biology as a major in the first place.

9. Walden | Henry David Thoreau

If you're interested in the philosophical side of biology, sit outside and read Walden. Besides the valuable lessons of minimalism and self-sufficiency, Thoreau's work serves as an excellent reminder of how excellent nature can be as a source of education.

For college students that are tired of labs an lecture halls, this book is a life-saver. It motivates the reader to search for truth, enjoy the little things, question convention, and most of all, keep their heads in the clouds.

10. Silent Spring | Rachel Carson

This one is for the environmentalists. If you're driven by saving the world and building a sustainable future, this book is a must-read. Silent Spring is famous for igniting the movement that banned DDT in the United States. It's also often credited with starting the environmentalist movement in the 1960s.

Carson's work is the perfect text to study if you're interested in the political side of environmental biology. Her work, filled with both emotional appeal and academically-recognized research started a profound social movement that is still present today.


Bonus: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? | Frans De Waal

I couldn't help but add this book; it's the next one up on my reading list. I can't give it a review quite yet, but I can say that I listened to a podcast that featured the author and I'm absolutely ecstatic about starting it!

The podcast alone left such an impression on me that I cited it in another vocal piece of mine: Crows Aren't Bird-brained. If you've already made your way through the above ten books, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is the next book for you! ♥


About the author

Olivia L. Dobbs

Science Enthusiast, Naturalist, Dreamer.

Check out my science! ->

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