Monthly Archives: August 2013

Gentle Introductions to Evolution: A Crowd-sourced List

My labmate, Ryan Baldini, recently sent a request to the UC Davis ecology, population biology, human behavioral ecology, and cultural evolution list serves asking for suggestions for “an accessible, non-textbook introduction to evolution (how it works, what it implies, and evidence) to recommend to curious friends and family.”
He specifically asked for works that were more about evolution and less about contrasting evolution with creationism. After getting responses he then, helpfully, compiled a disseminated a list of books with some commentary. I asked him if I could post the list here for a (somewhat) wider audience.

Below are his results.  If you, dear readers, have any additional suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

I received so many helpful responses to my question that I decided to share the results with everyone. Below I've listed all books that received at least two mentions, along with their number of mentions. I gave a half point if someone wrote "this is a good book, but...".
The most-recommended intro to evolution books, for a non-scientist, are:
 Coyne - Why Evolution is True: 9.5
 Weiner - Beak of the Finch: 5
 Shubin - Your Inner Fish: 5
 Dawkins - The Blind Watchmaker: 3
 Zimmer - The Tangled Bank: 3
 Mayr - What Evolution Is: 2.5
 Dawkins - The Selfish Gene: 2.5
 Maynard Smith - The Theory of Evolution: 2
 Dennett - Darwin's Dangerous Idea: 2
Some comments:
 Many people accompanied their suggestions with helpful opinions, which I'll do my best to summarize.
-On Coyne: People clearly thought Coyne's book was strong, but opinion varied on how appealing it would be to skeptical readers. Many wrote that Coyne does not explicitly challenge religion, which makes his book more inviting than, say, anything by Dawkins. On the other hand, Coyne appears to be largely motivated by the Intelligent Design school curriculum debate, which may turn off some readers. His book is primarily aimed at showing why evolution, and not ID, should be taught in schools - which may interfere with the goal of simply teaching what evolution is. In short, Coyne is probably ideal for showing you "why evolution is true," but there may be better options if the reader simply wants to know what evolution is and how it works, without any politics.
-Some recommended Mayr's What Evolution Is and Maynard Smith's Theory of Evolution, but said that these are on the advanced end of the casual reading spectrum.
-Carl Zimmer's Tangled Bank is technically marketed as a textbook, but written for non-science students.
 A few honorable mentions:
-Some illustrated books were suggested, which are probably great for very casual or younger readers. These include:
 Miller and Van Loon - Darwin for Beginners
 Keller and Fuller - Origin of Species: A graphic adaptation
 Hosler, Cannon, and Cannon - Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth
-Jeffrey Firestone recommended a unique book that I thought I should list. It is:
 Cameron Smith - The Fact of Evolution
 Jeffrey wrote: "[This book] has a different approach then we've been used to seeing. It doesn't do Darwin and genes and recapitulate intro bio. It points out that microevolution is a mathematical necessity, and the way that evolution works is logical when you go step by step, even if it seems illogical when looked at in separate chunks without preparation.

Announcing "Evolutionary Approaches to Peace Science" workshop @ Peace Science Society 24 Oct

Joslyn Barnhart and I are organizing a workshop on “Evolutionary Approaches to Peace Science” in conjunction with this year’s Peace Science Society meeting at the University of Tennessee.  The workshop will be hosted at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis on 24 October. Information is below.

If you would like to participate, please email me sometime this week.  The workshop is conditional on a threshold number of participants, if there is enough interest we will send out an email with more information by the end of the month. Also, please pass along this announcement to anyone, especially graduate students or post-docs, that you think might like to attend.

This workshop will take a broad view of “evolutionary approaches.”  The unifying thread is  that of “selection” which requires consideration of variation in entities (e.g., norms, preferences, policies, institutions) and selective retention or transmission of these entities through time. 

Existing evolutionary approaches to peace science have focused, independently, on a wide range of evolutionary processes at a wide range of physical and temporal scales. However, it is likely that they happen simultaneously and have interesting interactions.

Some examples of existing approaches:
1) Policy learning and diffusion of successful policies
2) Normative and ideational change through “cultural selection”
3) Competition and selection on economic and political institutions

4) Computational and mathematical models of international conflict/cooperation

This workshop is intended to further a discussion of how to integrate these approaches into a useful whole, with a focus on mathematical and computational modeling and empirical techniques.

The format of the workshop will depend on the number of participants and their specialties and topics of interest. If the group is smaller, we will have a few “big picture” talks followed by facilitated discussion.  If the group is larger, we will likely divide the work into sub-groups who will report back to the larger group at the end.

Please contact us or comment below if you have any questions or suggestions.