Michael Crichton$9.99 $9.19
When I was a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with dinosaurs. I watched every dinosaur show I could and plowed through the dinosaur section at the library. I learned about field work and excavating dinosaurs by reading Digging Dinosaurs by Jack Horner. The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert Bakker got me to start thinking about dinosaurs more as animals rather than bones. However, the book that really brought dinosaurs alive to me in middle school was Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. There is a lot about Michael Crichton’s work that has not aged well and his later work wandered into science denial. However, Jurassic Park is an engrossing mixture of science and science fiction. One small note, most paleontologists I have meet resemble Ian Malcolm way more than Alan Grant.
David M. Raup$18.95
David Raup’s academic work has been influential to my own growth as a scientist. Many of the ideas he has explored in his career are discussed in his book, Extinction. He contrasts the most catastrophic and important events in earth’s history (such as meteor impacts and super volcanoes) with the minor extinctions that occur continually through time. More importantly, he discusses why animals go extinct and the role of random chance in the history of life on earth.
Stephen Jay Gould$17.95 $16.51
More than any other, this is the book that influenced my own scientific career. The aspect of paleontology that has always interested me is in the weirdness of the past. If you look at reconstructions of the ancient world, they often look like an alien world with fantastical creatures. Nowhere is this better displayed than in the bizarre world of the Burgess Shale. Stephen Jay Gould describes the animals in this area in amazing detail and uses this as a backdrop to explore their importance in the history of life on earth. In particular, he argues that the Cambrian Sea had a much greater diversity of animal body forms than the current ocean. My own research over the last decade have led me to think this is likely not the case, but the ideas presented in this book have launched many studies over the last 30 years.
Anthony J. Martin$34.74
Tony Martin is one of my favorite science communicators, displaying an enormous enthusiasm for his area of expertise as well as a jovial manner of presenting his ideas. I have absolutely tried to emulate his wide-eyed passion for science and bad puns within my own lectures. Tony has done extensive work in Georgia as well as across the world from his home base at Emory University. In this book, he explores how the behavior of burrowing has been integral to ecology, evolution, and extinction through the history of life. Also check out his book Dinosaurs without Bones, which contains arguably the best scientific figure in existence in which he calculates the impact force of dinosaur vomit.
Neil Shubin$16.95 $15.59
This is my favorite science/paleontology book of the last several decades. I use this book in both my upper level courses and first year seminars. The book is the result of Shubin’s discovery of a transitional animal bridging the gap between fish and amphibians while he is also teaching human anatomy at the University of Chicago. This book directly links genetics and human medicine to the fossil record and our evolutionary history in an easy and fairly quick read. This book is a wonderful tool to begin pondering the utility of science and our connection to all life. I also highly recommend the three-episode miniseries of the same name.
Carl Zimmer$16.99 $15.63
We often think about parasites as degenerative creatures that are gross at best and a plague at worst. Carl Zimmer explores the science of these organisms along with their beautifully complex life cycles and biology. This book has plenty of moments that will made me squirm at the cruelty of nature, but also marvel at the intricacies of these often overlooked or disdained animals. This book opened a world around me of parasitic mind control that elevated nature to the extremes of science fiction.
Juli Berwald$17.00 $15.64
I really loved this book for many different reasons. Juli Berwald goes on both a personal and academic journey to learn everything possible about jellyfish. This book has parallels with The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery in that they are both personal love letters to the natural world. However, Berwald’s integrates her personal history with a more academic approach to these animals. It is reminiscent of being twelve and discovering and becoming obsessed with your new favorite subject. However, as a science writer she was able to take her curiosity and wonder across the world to aquariums, academic conferences, and the middle of the ocean. Luckily, she brings us along on her jellyfish quest.
Marah J. Hardt$18.98 $17.46
I have found that few things capture the attention of my students more than the weirdness of animal reproduction. I have regaled my students with the horror of duck sex and mimed the oddness of barnacle reproduction. This may sound silly, but sex is the cornerstone of biology, animal behavior, and evolution. Many recent books have tackled this subject, but I would recommend Sex in the Sea by Marah Hardt. This book gives a weird voyeuristic look into the reproduction of sea creatures from groupers to cuttlefish to worms that will keep you reading. Also, she also discusses how human activities are disrupting the mating rituals and reproduction of marine organisms. We often think of human impacts on the ocean in regards to climate change or overfishing, but this book highlights an area of conservation biology that is rarely discussed.
Mary Roach$16.95 $15.59
This book is packed with humor and quirky science. Mary Roach has explored in her books the science of making the perfect cat food, near death experiences, space toilets, and shark repellants. All of her books are highly recommended, but I would suggest starting with her first book, Stiff. In this book, she explores what happens to a body after it is donated to science. She discusses the macabre history of human dissection, tests to prevent severe injuries in soldiers, and the science behind forensics. This may sound like a grim read, but Roach’s persistent humor and writing style made me order all of her books before I finished Stiff.
Bill Schutt$16.95 $15.59
I was gifted this book by one of my superstar research students as a thank you when she graduated. As with the last suggestion, this book may sound grim, but it is a fascinating look at a taboo subject. In many instances, this book explores the cruel nature of the subject even within familiar and often adorable animals (such as tadpoles). While in other cases, this gruesome subject appears almost caring and sweet in an odd way. In addition, I learned new things about animals I have previously studied and written about. This book avoids the salaciousness of true crime or rather it explains the true crime inherent in the natural world.
David Quammen$18.95 $17.43
I really can’t think of a timelier science book today. This is a dense book, but it is also a book that really made me want to become a virologist. David Quammen explores the science behind emerging diseases in particular those that jump from animals into humans. The book is a wonderful mix of adventure travel, field science, medical history, and viral ecology. The book provides an intense view of what we know about diseases like Ebola, AIDS, or SARS, how they jump to and spread within human populations, and how scientists unravel the patterns. Obviously, Covid-19 is now the subtext to the entire book as he travels through the wet markets of China and discusses how a disease like SARS traveled rapidly across the world.