A while back, the Five Books section of The Browser, a popular book website, asked me to come up with a list of five books on evolution that I’d recommend to the general reader. The guideline was not to choose the five best books for educating the nonscientist about my field, but simply five excellent books on evolution suitable for the layperson.
My choices were followed up by a long phone interview with editor Sophie Roell, which was then transcribed. Go here to see my five (actually six) selections, the reasons I chose each book, and my musings on each. Sophie was a great interviewer, and asked lots of good questions about evolution that were inspired by the books.
Remember that this is the transcript of a phone call, not a written essay. Given that, I think it turned out pretty well.
I chose a Darwin, a Dawkins, a Janet Browne, two Goulds (one book, one essay collection), and a Prothero. It was really hard to narrow down the list to just five: I had to leave out classics that I thought might be too challenging for some readers, like George Williams’s Adaptation and Natural Selection, as well as books I really like but that many might not find interesting, like Ernst Mayr’s The Growth of Biological Thought. If I had been given more choices, I’d add at least one more Dawkins (probably The Selfish Gene, but maybe The Ancestor’s Tale) and perhaps Mayr’s What Evolution Is.
I’m sure I’ve made some historical errors in the conversation, and I’m just as sure that readers will have their own and different choices. If you want to list your own five, or just one or two evolution books you’d recommend to our readership, by all means do so, giving your reasons.