I've recently gotten interested in reading about biology/natural history.  I know Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould are near the top of the list, but they have intimidatingly long bibliographies.  Which of their works should I start with?


Hi Jim,

I'm sure other experts on this list will have different opinions on this, but I think Dawkin's books are probably best read in the order he wrote them (starting with "The Selfish Gene"). Personally I find the increasing anti-religous nature of Dawkin's later works detracts from his scientific writing - which is certainly of the highest order. Having said that I would also recommend "The Ancestors Tale."

Stephen Jay Gould's works are quite different and his style is a matter of personal taste (I'm not such a big fan), although "Wonderful Life" is probably the classic choice. I read this when I was 13 and it certainly ignited my interest in the Cambrian Explosion, although I have never studied it professionally.

I would also recommend the work of Steve Jones and in fact "Almost Like a Whale" may be the best book to start with as it is a modern reworking of Darwin's original "Origin of Species."

I hope that helps.

Hi Jim,

I'm ashamed to say that I've never read any Stephen Jay Gould, but as for Richard Dawkins 'The Blind Watchmaker' is definately worth a read.  It offers a good introduction to the theory of evolution by natural selection (at least as Dawkins sees it), whilst dealing with some of the arguments put forward against it.  It's worth noting that Stephen Jay Gould  and Richard Dawkins had somewhat different views on evolutionary theory, so by reading works by both authors you should get a flavour of their different approaches.

I would also recommend 'Life: An Unauthorised Biography' by Richard Fortey, which provides a very readable account of the history of life on Earth.

Happy reading!

Last edited by Phil Jardine (1st Mar 2007 16:45:13)

I also like Bill Bryson's a short history of nearly everything very much - his ability to effortlessly make complex issues simple to understand is a gift I wish I had!