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
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.